Film: This Week at SIFF

Shawn Telford goes back to Idaho, plus tips for week three.

You may recall seeing a short film at SIFF ’12 called The Last Virgin, about a drunken teenage party in rural Idaho that led to a potentially dicey situation with the comatose mom of one of those teens. Writer/director Shawn Telford, a local stage performer of note, was so jazzed by the experience that he kept right on filming in his old hometown of Post Falls, Idaho, to complete his first feature, called B.F.E. “We went back the last three summers” to film, he explains, sitting down for coffee at Zeitgeist. After The Last Virgin, he immediately began expanding its core episode into one part of a triptych, to fill in the backstories of his teenage characters. “I wanted to know more about them,” says Telford.

He kept all the same young Last Virgin performers, most of them from Seattle, where Telford also works for a casting agency. (Funding came from Kickstarter, a private investor, and “all my credit cards.”) In the two new vignettes, he added some local professionals he knew from our theater scene (Hans Altwies and Montana von Fliss), plus local TV-writer-turned-actor Wally Dalton (also seen at SIFF in Lucky Them, best known as the kindly security guard in Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy).

What does “B.F.E.” stand for, I ask? “Bum Fuck, Egypt,” says Telford, “The end of the line.” That’s the way he felt about growing up in the Idaho panhandle town of Post Falls, population 6,900, before he left as a teenager in the ’90s. (Today a Ballard resident, he’s been settled here since 1997, where he also earned an MFA in acting at the UW.) In the film, one of his teens declares, “Everyone who lives here is trapped,” and his grandfather (Dalton) tells the kid to “Get out of this hellhole and don’t look back.”

That was Telford’s own view at the same age: “I had to get out,” he says, though he’s kinder about Post Falls today. “I came to peace with it. I’ve totally changed; now I romanticize it.” Indeed, shot in lovely widescreen by Ty Migota, B.F.E. puts you in mind of The Last Picture Show and Dazed and Confused—looks back at youth that are by turns bitter, nostalgic, angry, and wondering. The kids are mostly unsupervised (or party with their irresponsible parents); the specter of meth hangs overhead; and teenage pregnancy is a fact of life. None of the misbehavior depicted is autobiographical; rather, says Telford, “It reflects the sense of the place, the wildness. The setting of the film is a character in itself.”

Telford is very much a SIFF-trained filmmaker, he says, reflecting back to 2009, when “the Fly Filmmaking program was my film school.” After its March premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival and following its local debut, Telford hopes to tour B.F.E. on the festival circuit, then show it at one of our indie cinemas. He and many cast members will attend both SIFF screenings. (Harvard Exit: 9 p.m. Mon. & 4 p.m. Tues.)

Absent parents and errant teens also figure in Hellion, set in southeast Texas, which almost serves as a companion piece to B.F.E. It’s a drama more focused on one particular family, in which two brothers are separated by their erratic, widowed father (Aaron Paul, from Breaking Bad) and a well-meaning aunt (Juliette Lewis). If sex, drugs, boredom, and alcohol are the drivers of B.F.E., here our 13-year-old delinquent hero (Josh Wiggins) is motivated by anger, motorcycles, and grief for his dead mother. You hope he can escape his demons, but writer/director Kat Candler isn’t one to provide easy salvation for her characters. (Pacific Place: 9:45 p.m. Fri. & 3:30 p.m. Sat.)

Michel Gondry is famed for his inventive, handcrafted movies, like Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In his new Mood Indigo, starring Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris as a new couple in love, there is a wealth of whimsical machinery. A piano makes cocktails to suit the music; our lovers float over Paris in an amusement-park-ride capsule suspended from a giant construction crane; and a picnic is divided in split-screen between sunshine and rain, yet no one seems to mind the difference. Everything is giddy and full of storybook caprice until the movie takes a darker turn (it actually shifts to black-and-white). Gondry builds his enchanted playhouse, then burns it to the ground. (Harvard Exit: 7 p.m. Wed. SIFF Cinema Uptown: 11 a.m. Sat. The movie opens here Aug. 1.)

Committed fans (like me) of the 2010 Steve Coogan-Rob Brydon road movie The Trip will find The Trip to Italy an enjoyable extension of the franchise (condensed from a BBC TV series). Newbies may find less to appreciate, however, about what’s essentially the same old thing (food, professional rivalries, celebrity impressions, the crushed hopes of midlife, etc.). “Do you think everything’s melancholy when you get to a certain age?” asks Rob. Yes, and a visit to the volcano-entombed mummies of Pompeii—where Steve quotes Hamlet’s “Where be your gibes now?” to Yorick’s skull—is downright somber. Still, the locations and food may inspire happy travel plans of your own; go while you’ve still got time. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 4:30 p.m. Fri. & 8 p.m. Sat. Expected for August release.)

From Finland, the dark comedy A Patriotic Man is studded with ’80s kitsch, from fuchsia jogging suits to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Yet the droll laughs accompany what’s actually a serious satire of corruption on the Finnish national cross-country ski team, which is cheating like mad to compete with the doped-up Russians. A recently fired press operator with naturally high hemoglobin levels is recruited to help coach the skiers—and by “coach” we mean hook up an IV from his veins to that of a lovely blond racer. The chain-smoking, hard-drinking Toivo gets to share in the glory of Aino’s victories on the snow while also becoming a guilt-ridden, portable “fuel tank.” His shame is the nation’s shame, and director Arto Halonen does not go easy on his countrymen. It’s my pick of the week. (Egyptian: 9:30 p.m. Thurs. Pacific Place: 4 p.m. Fri.)

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