Recommended movies for the final weekend of the Seattle International Film Festival.
The Seattle International Film Festival concludes Sunday, with a gala screening of “The Young Karl Marx,” directed by Raoul Peck (the Oscar-nominated “I Am Not Your Negro”) at 6 p.m. June 11 at Cinerama, followed by a closing-night party at MOHAI. Here are some recommended movies for the final weekend, reviewed by Evan Bush, John Hartl, Moira Macdonald, Brent McKnight and Michael Upchurch. For more information on the festival or full listings, see siff.net.
“American Folk” ★★½
Seattle International Film Festival
Through June 11 at Egyptian, Uptown, Pacific Place, SIFF Film Center. Individual tickets are $11 weekday matinees ($9 SIFF members), $14 evening/weekend shows ($12 SIFF members); various ticket packages available. Box office: 206-324-9996, siff.net or at festival venues.
Setting your movie immediately after 9/11 is a bold choice, but in the wake of that national tragedy, two stranded musicians embark on a cross-country road trip. Folk singers Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth don’t always command the screen like more polished actors, and “American Folk” presents a simplified, sanitized version of that turbulent time. But with quirky characters met along the road, and as a visual love letter to the heartland, the film has a certain charm, and fans of folk music should be more than happy. Rubarth and director David Heinz are scheduled to attend both screenings. (9:30 p.m. June 9, Pacific Place; 3 p.m. June 10, Uptown) — Brent McKnight
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“The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” ★★★½
A veteran of Stonewall and a pioneering force for LGBTQ rights, Marsha P. Johnson died under mysterious circumstances in 1992. Director David France digs into the events surrounding the transgender icon’s death in a film that’s part history, part biography, part murder mystery. If there’s a flaw, it’s that it attempts too much. France shows Marsha’s life, the origins of the movement and shines a light on the epidemic of anti-trans violence that persists today. At times the narrative feels scattered, but this is heartbreaking, powerful and pressing, and an urgent must-see. Producer L.A. Teodosio is scheduled to attend both screenings. (6:30 p.m. June 9, Uptown; 3:45 p.m. June 10, Egyptian) — B.M.
“Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey”★★★
Anyone who has thumbed through a local climbing guidebook has seen the name Fred Beckey, who earned his ubiquity by being the first to climb dozens, if not hundreds, of peaks in the Northwest. The film documents the notoriously single-minded and churlish Beckey’s accomplishments and the vagabond climber lifestyle he pioneered. Shot over a decade, “Dirtbag” follows the now 94-year-old mountaineer on climbing trips as he confronts aging and his own legacy. Although it dwells too long on Beckey’s résumé and can meander, it successfully captures Beckey as a character and presents an energetic biography of a Northwest pioneer. Numerous guests from the film will attend both screenings. (6 p.m. June 10, Uptown) — Evan Bush
“A Ghost Story” ★★★
David Lowery’s eerie, often exquisite and often frustrating film is about many things: love, death, what’s left behind when we’re gone and the way dusty light flows into a room on a hot, quiet day. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star, but have few scenes together and even fewer lines; this is really about the quiet life of a ghost, haunting a house where contentment once lived. Bring patience — and a fondness for Malick-ish stillness — and perhaps find reward. Lowery is scheduled to attend. (9:30 p.m. June 9, Uptown; 2:30 p.m. June 10, Uptown). — Moira Macdonald
Tunisian Peugeot salesman Hedi is about to get married — and it seems more his overbearing mother’s idea than his. So it makes sense that, when he falls for a hotel entertainer on a business trip, he starts tearing the whole fabric of his life apart. Actor Majd Mastoura makes pouting, uptight Hedi a completely unpredictable force in the film, while director Mohamed Ben Attia subtly weaves the seismic social changes brought on by the Arab Spring into this sly, poignant drama. (6:30 p.m. June 11, Uptown) — Michael Upchurch
Filmed entirely in South Africa, with a cast made up of the country’s citizens, this powerful, sometimes shocking account of the life of the apartheid martyr, Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu, frequently benefits from a strong central performance by Thabo Rametsi that helps to hold the story together. The script tends to build its narrative on philosophical and religious arguments, but they’re often riveting and articulate, especially in courtroom scenes that take the film beyond the expected limitations of action scenes. Rametsi is scheduled to attend the screening (3:30 p.m. June 9, Uptown) — John Hartl
“Knife in the Clear Water” ★★½
To call “Knife in the Clear Water” quiet and slow doesn’t quite capture the reality. With no music, a glacial pace, and long static shots of characters doing literally nothing, this isn’t for everyone. But those with patience may find something lovely. A subdued, somber parable about grief and mortality, in China’s largely Muslim Ningxia province, an ancient farmer develops an unusual bond with his equally elderly bull and finds himself unable to sacrifice the animal in a ceremony to honor his recently deceased wife. Director Wang Xuebo and executive producer Zhao Yihan are scheduled to attend both screenings. (1:30 p.m. June 9, Pacific Place; 7 p.m. June 10, Pacific Place) — B.M.
“The Landing” ★★½
For a mission that never happened, Apollo 18 occupies a unique place in popular culture. It’s the title of a video game, name of an indie-rock band and a less-than-stellar found-footage horror movie. And now it’s the subject of a faux-documentary. After a troubled re-entry, the final mission to the moon crashed in an isolated Chinese desert. Conspiracy theories, a murder mystery and a central figure who’s either a tragic hero or clever villain combine into what would be a mostly engaging documentary. And as a work of fiction, “The Landing” isn’t bad either. Directors Mark and David Dodson and select cast and crew are scheduled to attend the screenings. (9:15 p.m. June 9, Uptown; 3:30 p.m. June 11, Uptown) — B.M.
“My Journey Through French Cinema” ★★★½
Bertrand Tavernier, who began as a film critic before making his 1974 directing debut with “The Clockmaker,” assembled this wide-ranging, three-hours-plus history of French filmmaking, from “Children of Paradise” to “Forbidden Games.” It’s both a salute to the New Wave that sent other critics to filmmaking careers and a series of demonstrations of how color, music and camera movements can transform a story into a vital piece of cinema. Tavernier’s own adolescent obsession with the films of Jacques Becker gets the movie off to a choppy start, but the variety of inspirations (not to mention the visual quality of the film clips) is astonishing. (7 p.m. June 9, SIFF Film Center) — J.H.
“New Chefs on the Block” ★★★
Do you have to be a little crazy to open a restaurant? This savvy, funny, occasionally repetitive documentary suggests you do. Construction delays, malfunctioning plumbing, long hours and financial risks make it an intensely stressful business. But it’s your business. And having something of your own, especially something you love doing, can’t be beat. Director Dustin Harrison-Atlas is terrific on both the nuts and bolts of running an eatery and the personal lives of restaurant professionals who, in following their vocation, have left the mainstream 9-to-5 world far behind. The director will attend both screenings. (6 p.m. June 9, Uptown; 11:30 a.m. June 10, Uptown). — M.U.
“The Oath” ★★★
When his troubled daughter falls in with vicious drug dealer, Finnur (Icelandic writer/director/star Baltasar Kormakur), a well-respected heart surgeon, discovers just how deep into the darkness he’s willing to go to save her. The easiest comparison is “Taken,” but “The Oath” eschews the action trappings for delicate character work, escalating psychological tension, and sheer nastiness. With methodical pacing, Finnur builds his alibi and exacts retribution. While the endgame remains blurry, Kormakur’s grim, desolate thriller is a gripping dive into the shadows and more emotionally twisted than most sawed-off-shotgun-toting revenge films. (4 p.m. June 11, Egyptian) — B.M.
“Susanne Bartsch: On Top” ★★★
Auntie Mame once insisted that “life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” That sentiment is echoed in a new documentary about a nonfictional Mame, Susanne Bartsch, who reigned in New York during the post-Warhol era. Raised in Switzerland where she felt “very boxed in,” she created party scenes (“more like full-scale theatrical events”) in London, Tokyo and, especially, New York. When the AIDS era hit, her parties became fundraisers. Her costumes are outlandish and her attitude is pure diva — but her frivolity has a worthy nonconformist agenda behind it. Directors Anthony&Alex will attend the screening. (4:30 p.m. June 9, Egyptian) — J.H.