Those living in the Pacific Northwest know that there are few places as cozy as a movie theater when one hopes to escape the rainy days outside. And for much of the next three weeks, Seattle dwellers will have ample reasons to seek solace in theaters once the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival takes over town. Showing 410 films hailing from 86 different countries, with close to half of them being directed by female filmmakers, this year’s SIFF program has every kind of film covered.
Whether you’re a fan of animated journeys through the Andes, Harlem-set coming of age tales, MMA fighter flicks set in Washington state, or LGBT stories from Central America, you’re bound to find something to enjoy in this almost month-long affair. Check out our top picks below.
2019 Seattle International Film Festival runs May 16, 2019 – June 9, 2019.
Ayanna is making the most out of her last summer in Harlem before heading to college. She’s bold, confident, and not really looking for love — until she meets the slightly older Isaiah. After one of those rare first dates that lasts for hours, she knows there’s something different about him. Ayanna has found herself at an intimidating crossroads: one foot is still under her mother’s roof, while the other is primed to step out on her own with Isaiah. Bronx-born Boricua director Rashaad Ernesto Green captures youthful, uninhibited conviction through Ayanna’s world in flux: transitional outbursts at home with her mother, deep and sensuous encounters of intimacy with Isaiah, and moments of unfiltered honesty with her girlfriends.
With striking vérité camerawork, Midnight Family drops us directly into the frenetic nighttime emergency ecosystem of Mexico City. In the midst of high-speed ambulance rides, we meet the Ochoas, a ragtag family of private paramedics, who try desperately every day to be the first responders to critically injured patients. In a city where the government operates only 45 emergency ambulances for a population of over nine million, the family acts as a crucial—but unregistered—underground lifeline. But the job is riddled with police bribes and cutthroat competition. And even though the Ochoa family has a reputation for being trustworthy, they must reckon with the sudden escalation in bribes that could force them to wade into the ethically questionable practice of making money off of patients in dire straits.
In Pachamama, the Andes are the perfect setting for this children’s adventure, which evokes the journey-of-the-hero archetype. And every inch of Argentine director Juan Antin’s movie feels personal, ready to conjure a sense of magic that comes only from that region, its culture, its sounds and its colors – rearranged into a powerful visual tale. Antin is ready to use his icons as perfect, heartfelt, bigger than life and powerful toys, while managing to be smart enough to show the Spanish Conquest from another point of view – and still believing, above all, in magic.
Spanish director Icíar Bollaín (Even the Rain) and her partner Paul Laverty (Ken Loach’s longtime collaborator) try something completely different with this adaptation of acclaimed Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta’s autobiography. Yuli, the nickname given to Acosta by his father Pedro, runs wild in the streets of Havana where he participates in dance-offs with other kids. Recognizing Yuli’s natural talent, Pedro forces him to attend Cuba’s National Dance School. Yuli is reluctant at first, but is eventually seduced by this world. Seventeen years later, he would become the first black artist to dance the role of Romeo in the Royal Ballet in London. Combining a straightforward narrative with scenes where Acosta is seen working with his company on choreographies based on his life, Yuli is a moving fusion of dance, words and images.
Esto no es Berlín
As Mexico anticipates the 1986 World Cup, 17-year-old Carlos is less interested in soccer and more interested in listening to his record collection and admiring Rita, the older sister of his best friend, Gera. Carlos and Gera’s suburban, juvenile monotony is interrupted when Rita’s goth band introduces them to an underground nightclub, the Azteca. The teens are instantly seduced by the Azteca’s regulars and their exhilarating world of performance art, sexual fluidity, and prescription drugs. Carlos and Gera’s friendship is tested as the two explore new identities and face the consequences of adult decisions. Infused with a post-punk soundtrack and brimming with enchanting performances from a promising young cast, Esto no es Berlín delivers an energetic portrait of a clandestine sanctuary propelled by youth fleeing the societal repression of their time.
Belonging to a rebel group called “the Organization,” a ragtag band of child soldiers, brandishing guns and war names like Rambo, Wolf, Lady, and Bigfoot, occupies a derelict ruin atop a remote mountain where they train themselves, watch over a “conscripted” milk cow, and hold hostage a kidnapped American engineer, Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). But after an attack forces them to abandon their base, playtime is over for the motley young crew. The visionary third feature of Alejandro Landes (Cocalero, Porfirio), Monos captivates us with its striking baroque aesthetic, otherworldly setting, and ingenious reframing of the war film—one that uses adolescence to insinuate a youthful but elusive dream of peace. With enthralling performances from Nicholson and a talented young ensemble led by Moises Arias, Landes constructs a stylized, deceptively surreal space that teeters between tedium and hedonism, made more unsettling by its disquieting soundscape and Mica Levi’s brilliant score.
In Guatemala City, the very ground the city is built on is fragile and unreliable for its people. It shakes and destroys at will, often with catastrophic results. Under these circumstances, Guatemalans hold strongly onto their faith; it’s the only stable thing they have ever known. Pablo is no different, a good Catholic man who has visited church all his life and is faithful to his wife Isa and their two beautiful children. But when he meets Francisco, he immediately falls for him, which is a sin in the eyes of his church and his family. As Pablo battles his own internalized homophobia, he has to deal with his surroundings’ disgust at this discovery, too: he loses his job, the right to see his children, and the support of his community. Encouraged by Isa and their Pastor, he starts attending conversion therapy, and soon enough, everything seems to be going back to normal — that is, until the ground starts trembling again.
El despertar de las hormigas
For thoughtful, demure young housewife Isa (Daniella Valenciano), life in a lush, postcard-perfect Costa Rican seaside village is far from being anyone’s idea of a dream. Pressured by her intrusive and loudly opinionated in-laws to have another baby even as her already cramped household struggles to stay afloat, and tending to the needs of her husband and two daughters while her own desires remain distant and ignored, Isa finds herself suffocated by rigid gender roles and the cloistered, provincial thinking that comes with small-town life. Desperately imagining some other way of living—single, childless, desired—while growing increasingly tense and angry towards those closest to her, Isa unexpectedly becomes more attuned to the natural world and its strangeness, as increasingly vivid and at times surreal dreams and visions take over her waking life, blurring the line between what is and what can be. Soon the young mother finds herself at a breaking point, awakening to her own long-suppressed sexuality and the possibilities of a life lived on her own terms, in this engrossing and intimate feature debut from writer/director Antonella Sudasassi Furniss.
Read Remezcla’s review.
Beginning with a breathless, Robin Hood-style train robbery and ending with a highly provocative—and not for the faint of heart—final sequence, the directing debut of journalist, musician, and actor Wagner Moura (Narcos) is a searing and energized portrait of one of Brazil’s most divisive historical figures, Afro-Brazilian poet and politician Carlos Marighella (Seu Jorge). Driven to fight against the erosion of civil and human rights following the CIA-backed military coup of 1964 and the brutal right-wing dictatorship that followed, the revolutionary leaves behind wife Clara (Adriana Esteves) and son Carlinhos to take to the streets, soon authoring the highly influential Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, becoming a notorious enemy to the power structure—and being doggedly pursued by sadistic chief inspector Lucio (Bruno Gagliasso), before an untimely death in a dramatic police ambush in 1969.
Las niñas bien
Sofia (Ilse Salas) and Fernando (Flavio Medina) have it all — money, status, beautiful houses, servants. Fernando has inherited all his wealth, acquired by his father with the help of his uncle Javier. At dinner one night, Javier announces he is stepping aside. There are a few dark clouds on the horizon: their American business associates have backed out of a deal, and the President of Mexico has just appeared on television with ominous news about the economy. Initially, their world remains untroubled. Sofia watches with slight hauteur as two new arrivistes, a young woman and her rather gauche husband, try to enter her social circle. But gradually cracks appear in Sofia and Fernando’s manicured lives, as the social and economic order starts to shift around them. Alejandra Márquez Abella captures all of the interplay with complete assurance. Her film is perfectly cast, beautifully framed, and carefully observed – décor, clothes, setting. Nothing is out of place in this insightful, quasi-tragic look at a time that has many parallels in the present
El viaje extraordinario de Celeste García
A compassionate and candid woman with an endless curiosity for life, Celeste (Maria Isabel Diaz) is a retired and widowed teacher living a tranquil, unadventurous existence in Havana. Her part-time job at the planetarium keeps her busy, but she goes home to a careless adult son who ignores her, and her selfish sister visits only when she is looking for something. One day, the government announces the surprising news that aliens have been living on Earth and that these unusual guests are now returning the favour by inviting humans to their world. Celeste had always thought that her “Russian” neighbour Pauline was eccentric — she now realizes her friend was truly from another planet. While people rush to put their names forward to be selected in an extraterrestrial lottery, Celeste discovers that Pauline has left her a personal invitation. To everyone’s surprise, she agrees to accept.
Puerto Rican director Ruben Rodriguez wants you to meet the Fighting Montenegros from Issaquah, Washington: Amy and Dex Montenegro. The two met at the gym—her a rising mixed-martial-arts amateur who turned to the sport in the wake of an abusive relationship; him a retired professional MMA fighter-turned fight coach with three daughters from a previous marriage—and after a quick sparring match followed by a first date at their local Subway, they were inseparable. Now with her husband by her side, Amy turned professional and has been killing it on the fight circuit, competing in the straw-weight division and holding a record of 5-1. And now she’s been invited to compete on the eleventh iteration of Invicta Fighting Championships, which showcases US-based female fighters. Before she can enter the octagon and square off against Brianna “The Bull” Van Buren, though, a tough training camp is only one of her challenges; the couple must also act as responsible role models for their young daughters, two of whom wish to continue the family’s athletic dynasty.