Golden Space Needle

This year some 67,000 SIFF ballots were cast to determine the popular award winners. At the top of the list was a film I missed and which doesn't even have a distributor or Seattle release date yet established: Luis Mandoki's Innocent Voices, about El Salvador's brutal civil war during the 1980s. That it won the Golden Space Needle Award may say more about Seattle politics than the picture's quality (reviews have been respectful, not ecstatic); since all our peace marches and protests failed to stop the Iraq war, here's a chance to get mad all over again about the interventionist cowboy policies of the Reagan era. For SIFF 2006, perhaps we'll see a similar film made from an Iraqi perspective. A big winner that opens this week (see review and interview) is Mysterious Skin, which scored for director Gregg Araki and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Actress Joan Allen was honored for Yes, an adulterous love triangle rendered in iambic pentameter, which opens here July 8. Fond memories of the recent The Upside of Anger and Off the Map also probably helped tip SIFF voters in her direction. As usual, SIFF had many fine documentaries, and audiences liked Murderball best. The rousing doc about wheelchair athletes and their coaches reaches local screens July 22. It's interesting to note that the runners-up mostly share the same uplifting spirit: The March of the Penguins (chicks are hatched despite brutal conditions), After Innocence (prisoners are freed by DNA evidence), and Mad Hot Ballroom (plucky school kids overcome adversity). What I saw and liked most at SIFF wasn't so cheerful. Tops among docs, and best of the fest for me, was Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man (Aug. 12), about a self-appointed bear protector and shameless self-promoter, possibly mentally unbalanced, who was ultimately eaten by the animals he genuinely loved. Brilliantly assembled from footage the victim shot during his many Alaskan visits, and dryly narrated by the director, Grizzly Man shows how "this sentimental view that everything was in harmony" fatally collided with unyielding nature— "chaos, hostility, and murder," as Herzog puts it. It's one of his very best films, haunting and disturbing, like the grizzly bears themselves. Among features, the dialogue-free Korean romance 3-Iron (which died in theaters immediately following its SIFF debut) and Miranda July's festival-opening Me and You and Everyone We Know (July 1) both tickle the brain and heart long after you've seen them. My Summer of Love (see review and interview) has something of the same lingering emotional power. And for sheer filmgoing pleasure, it's hard to beat the British gangster flick Layer Cake. Still, the most indelible image at the festival was those bears with their implacable, merciless eyes, contrasted with the sweetly uncomprehending guy who loved them to death.

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