And so it ends, the 10 days and 11 nights of a cinematic downpour, and the enticing and occasionally exhausting routine outside our routines — getting up early and staying up late to take in as much film as possible. Today is the capper for SBIFF 2017, capping off with the closing film Their Finest. Once again, the general verdict on this 32nd annual fest, which grew from humble hopeful origins to an increasingly international and Hollywood-kissed status, is very positive — a compacted field report on what’s happening in the film medium around the world.
What the closing night audience will be presented with is a list of awards this year, which will end up wrapped in garlands on posters and ads for winning films as they go forth into the world.
And the winners are…ADL Stand Up Award: Strawberry Days; Audience Choice Award: My Hero Brother; Best Documentary Award: My Hero Brother; Best Documentary Short Film Award: Refugee; Bruce Corwin Award – Best Live Action Short Film: It’s Been Like a Year; Bruce Corwin Award – Best Animated Short Film: Confino; Jeffrey C. Barbakow Award – Best International Feature Film: The Constitution; Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema: The Good Catholic; Nueva Vision Award for Spain/Latin America Cinema: Tamara; Social Justice Award for Documentary Film: Angry Anuk; Valhalla Award for Best Nordic Film: Sámi Blood.
For those gazing at the list with some longing, the good news is that many of these will show in the “Third Weekend” program next week. It’s free, and on a first-come-first-served basis, for those who might miss the drill of being in line.
A few random awards of my own to suggest… Best Musical Score: Andrzej Panufnik’s music used in Afterimage; Best Acting Award(s): to Andreas Döhler in Hands of the Mother and Angela and Marianna Fontana in Indivisible; Best and most Affective Use of Handheld Camera: goes to the Bulgarian Glory and the Danish In the Blood.
As one of the several films in the foreign film Oscar swim and sweepstakes, and a film with a compelling character, Tanna may return to a theater near us, unlike most of the films seen at the festival (one reason we clamor to take in as much as possible, while the big screen viewing is good). Directors Martin Butler and Bentley Dean’s fascinating tale of the ancient ways of one of the few remaining indigenous tribes on the South Pacific island of Tanna, circa the 1980s, is “based on a true story, performed by the people of the Yekel.” At its root, Tanna is an exotic and touching “death do us part” love story about Wawa and Dain, in the glow of a volcano, dodging the conversion-hungry Christians on the island (and, by extension, Colonial life) and fighting the stifling arranged marriage customs of the “Kastom Roads” culture.
In a way, the film’s rare focus on tribal life reminds us of one of SBIFF 2016’s prizes, the Amazonian-based Embrace of the Serpent. Cinema about the endangered life of indigenous peoples seem to take on greater importance as globalism and modern life exact their ravages on ancient peoples and ways.
Scandinavian youths of varying types are in the spotlight in two intriguing films: In the Finnish director Selma Vilhunen’s winning film Little Wing, our sweet but intrepid 12-year-old heroine Varpu is on a quest to find her long-missing father, and finds herself in a maelstrom of happenstance in the process. The young and trouble hero of Norwegian director Erik Skjoldbjærg’s Pyromaniac, as the title implies, has taken his angst and restless spirit to some fiery extremes, in a slow-burn suspense film that studies pathological behavior in an area and capitalizes on the filmic firepower, so to speak, of its subject.
Paying it forward, in an anatomical way, is the central theme in the unique and stylishly-made film Healing the Living, directed by French director Katell Quillévéré. A cleverly crafted and emotion powered tale of two cases — an accident victim and the recipient of a healthy heart — naturally tugs on heartstrings, but also benefits from gripping filmmaking. The movie opens with a stunningly kinetic sequence, literally depicting the “picture of health” and the seemingly indomitable life force of youth, leading us from a teenager in bed with his girlfriend before dawn, racing off on a bike to a van ride, to vivid surfing shots. We are in the hurtling energy and in the wave. Then comes a fateful blackout, and the story proceeds. We can forgive the irritatingly sentimental new age music score, amidst the other sensory wonders and mis en scenes (including surgery sequences) feeding into the integrity of the whole.
The “international” component of SBIFF has been far-reaching this year, as usual, including our neighbor to the north, Canada, and, to a lesser degree, Mexico, our suddenly and regrettably newsworthy (due to Trumped-up travesty) to the south. From that lively cinematic culture comes I’m Not a Rebel, a wonderfully madcap comedy freely based on a true story from the ’70s, about an “accidental” hijacking by students seeking the release of captured “rebels” (and our hero’s desperate attempt to reunite with his imprisoned girlfriend). A long standoff in an airport between a generalissimo and the improvising “hijackers” is full of whimsical huff and guff, and there will be blood, but only a thimble full amidst the often hilarious follies.
Much of the film was shot in a decommissioned, actual plane in Durango, formerly owned by Hugh Hefner, according to director Sergio Sanchez in a post-screening Q&A early this morning. He also expressed his love for ’70s cinema, and comedies such as Airheads, which fed into his new film’s quirky retro look and feel. Chances to catch it on the big screen may be rare, but it was sold to HBO, thus available in a home theater near you.
Top Tenning on the Mind: We all do it, those habitual fest-goers and collectors of titles and film experiences at SBIFF, rating and collating and comparing as we go. Barring any seen in today’s line-up, here is this faithful scribe/film addict’s Top 10 for the 2017 SBIFF: I am Not a Negro, Chasing Trane, My Life as a Zucchini, Sami Blood, Afterimage (Andrzej Wajda’s final film), Indivisible, Fire at Sea, Strawberry Days, The Salesman, The Distinguished Citizen, Land of Mine. Ok, I’ve turned it to 11.
What to See File: Of the films on today’s docket, I can recommend: Tanna, Chasing Trane, Indivisible, My Life as a Zucchini, 10-10-10 Screenings & Awards, The Commune, The Constitution, Pyromaniac.