Due the unfortunate fact that we are merely human and Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) is just beginning its three-week film rampage, we’ve sifted through the Festival’s gigantic catalog to come up with the best films of the bunch — or so we suspect. SIFF is annually guaranteed to have a mixture of some of the best and worst films that one can see — and these film recommendations come from the minds of three REDEFINE writers with good intentions. Yet at best, these selections are our most educated hypotheses, determined from a mixture of film industry knowledge and intuitions based on trailers.

Below, we’ve grouped our selections for 2013 by world region.

Stay tuned in the weeks to come, as we offer updates throughout the festival’s progression, with general thumbs up and thumbs down summaries of the films we will painfully and enjoyably slog and float through, as well as one-off full-length reviews. Happy SIFFing!

SIFF 2013 Top Film Picks

African Films

The African Cypher (South Africa) * TOP PICK *
Dancing is an integral part of many societies, but in South Africa, it becomes a fashion, a status symbol, and a set of morals to guide by and a way of life. Bryan Little does a fantastic job of letting the story tell itself as he follows and interviews various dancers throughout South African townships as they eventually end up at the “Big Dance Competition”. Featuring breathtaking dance sequences, it is clear that in South Africa, dancing is less of a social experience and more a form of personal expression. – PETER WOODBURN
May 18, 2013 – 6:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 19, 2013 – 1:00 PM – AMC Pacific Place 11

 

Horses of God – Les Chevaux de Dieu (Morocco)
On May 16, 2003, a total of 45 people died in Casablanca, Morocco in what is the country’s worst terrorist attack in history. Horses of God follows the trials and tribulations of the youths living in the shanty towns of Sidi Moumen, where eventually all of the suicide bombers would hail from. Horses of God is wide in its scope, following the kids from childhood to adulthood as they become disenfranchised from the richer Moroccan sector and find their solace in extremist Islamic views. – PETER WOODBURN
June 7, 2013 – 6:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
June 8, 2013 – 6:00 PM – Kirkland Performance Center

 

 

East Asian & Southeast Asian Films

The Act of Killing (Denmark / Indonesia) * TOP PICK *
Harrowing and bizarre in almost every way imagined by humanity, The Act of Killing follows perpetrators of 1960s death squad genocides as they recreate the historical events, scaring babies, relishing in hypothetical murder, and stirring up horrific memories and sights along the way. This film feels like something that truly needs to be seen to be believed. Documentary master Werner Herzog describes the film, saying, “I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade… it is unprecedented in the history of cinema.” Vivian Hua
May 18, 2013 – 4:00 PM Harvard Exit
May 22, 2013 – 9:30 PM Harvard Exit

 

The Guillotines – 血滴子 (China / Hong Kong)
Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs) makes an ode to Fatal Flying Guillotine that looks kind of like a Transformers movie. I’ve had pretty good luck with big dumb wuxia epics at SIFF before, so why not try my luck again? – Allen Huang
VIEW TRAILER
June 1, 2013 – 11:55 PM – Egyptian Theatre

 

Pieta – 피에타 (South Korea) * TOP PICK *
I haven’t seen a Kim Ki-Duk movie since 2006’s Time, at which point I got fairly sick of the director’s predictable formula and aesthetic tics. But there’s always been something fascinating about his absurdist morality plays (3-Iron being the best execution of this), and since the waning of the Korean Film Wave, it’d be nice to get reacquainted with Kim’s style. A little research says he’s been through a lot of personal shit lately, culminating in the documentary Arirang. It’ll be interesting to see whether his meditations on death and loss and tragedy actually lead to a revised outlook on life. – Allen Huang
May 17, 2013 – 10:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 19, 2013 – 9:00 PM – AMC Pacific Place 11

 

A River Changes Course (Cambodia) * TOP PICK *
The things which move me with burning desire to see this film lies in the spaces beyond words or even location. Arresting cinematography turn everything in this documentary focus on Cambodia – from the country’s most rural to its most industrial centers – into splendid, arresting works of moving art. Vivian Hua
May 26, 2013 – 5:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown Uptown
May 27, 2013 – 12:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown Uptown

 

The Rocket (Australia / Laos)
October Sky but in Laos, and instead of Chris Cooper, a dude named Uncle Purple. I liked October Sky, but it definitely needed more lush jungle scenes and a James Brown impersonator. – Allen Huang
VIEW TRAILER
May 22, 2013 – 4:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 24, 2013 – 6:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

Wolf Children – Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (Japan) * TOP PICK *
When people talk about who will take up Hayao Miyazaki‘s mantle as the king of Japanese animated film, two names come up time and time again. One, Makoto Shinkai, whose last film Children Who Chase Lost Voices took those comparisons very seriously, and two, Mamoru Hosoda, whose last three films have won a plethora of awards, including the Japan Academy Animation of the Year for all three films. Hosoda shares many of Miyazaki’s traits: fascination with young women as protagonists, bright color schemes, and a firm grasp of character development. But while his last two films were sci-fi in nature, Wolf Children is pure fantasy that doesn’t hesitate to deal with some very real themes. – Allen Huang
June 1, 2013 – 11:00 AM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
June 3, 2013 – 7:00 PM – Egyptian Theatre

 

 

Eastern European & Western European Films

Celestial Wives of Meadow Mari – Nebesnye Ženy Lugovykh Mari (Russia)
Folkloric and full of whimsy, this film by Aleksey Fedorchenko, the director of Silent Souls, is deeply embedded in nature and sunshine as it bizarrely and playfully links together the stories of twenty-two women whose names all begin with the letter O. Magic, strange creatures, and beautiful women abound, and it seems like anything goes. Vivian Hua
VIEW TRAILER
June 6, 2013 – 8:30 PM – Kirkland Performance Center
June 8, 2013 – 9:30 PM Harvard Exit
June 9, 2013 – 4:00 PM Harvard Exit

 

Cockneys vs. Zombies (United Kingdom)
Lazy comparisons will label this film the East London version of Shaun of the Dead; and while it lacks the insatiable wit and satire the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg masterpiece had, Cockneys vs. Zombies has plenty of odes to the working class section of London, plenty of blood to satisfy the zombie craving, and enough Cockney accents to make this a borderline foreign film. It is a tribute to the less glamorous side of London in the best way possible. – PETER WOODBURN
VIEW TRAILER
June 8, 2013 – 11:55 PM – Egyptian Theatre
June 9, 2013 – 8:30 PM – Kirkland Performance Center

 

Harmony Lessons – Uroki Garmonii (Kazakhstan) * TOP PICK *
The work of Kazakh director Emir Baigazin, Harmony Lessons takes a look at the rarely-represented Eurasian country through the eyes of young boys, as they bully and are bullied, abuse and are abused. The interactions between characters are raw, often feeling unrefined in their simplicity – but it is this sense of raw honesty that makes the moments captivating, as well as made it a main contender of the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival. Vivian Hua
June 4, 2013 – 8:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
June 6, 2013 – 3:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

The Hunt – Jagten (Denmark) * TOP PICK *
Thomas Vinterburg is the other guy when it comes to Dogma 95. Less prolific, less incendiary but no less talented than Von Trier, Vinterburg weaves similarly intricate character studies, all without dooming the entirety of humanity time and time again. The Hunt, his first film since 2010’s Submarino, won best actor at Cannes for Mads Mikkelsen, whose best known in America for playing the main antagonist in Casino Royale. A desperate, pained character study about a man wrongfully accused of being a child molester, the visual tone alone make it look worthwhile. – Allen Huang
June 4, 2013 – 7:00 PM Harvard Exit
June 6, 2013 – 4:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

Paradise: Love – Paradies: Liebe (Austria)
Paradise: Faith – Paradies: Glaube (Austria)
Paradise: Hope – Paradies: Hoffnung (Austria)
The Paradise Trilogy by Ulrich Siedl might be grouped as such, but each chapter of the series explores a facet of humanity in a vastly different way, as it follows an overweight 50-year-old Caucasian woman as she explores Kenya’s sex tourism scene (Love), a religious self-flagellating missionary (Faith), and a 13-year-old as she experiences the highs and lows of weight-loss camp (Hope). Vivian Hua
Paradise: Love – VIEW TRAILER
May 23, 2013 – 3:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 27, 2013 – 8:30 PM Harvard Exit

Paradise: Faith –
VIEW TRAILER
May 22, 2013 – 6:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 25, 2013 – 12:30 PM – AMC Pacific Place 11

Paradise: Hope – VIEW TRAILER
May 23, 2013 – 6:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 25, 2013 – 3:00 PM – AMC Pacific Place 11

 

Yesterday Never Ends – Ayer no termina nunca (Spain)
In this age, the near future might be more compelling than the distant beyond. To formulate what the world might be like in the next five, ten years is in many ways much more difficult than imagining a distant utopia/dystopia. Spanish Director Isabel Coixet takes a stab at it, framing a love story with a world where financial ruin is the norm and not the fear. – Allen Huang
VIEW TRAILER
June 1, 2013 – 5:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
June 2, 2013 – 12:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

 

Middle Eastern Films

A World Not Ours – Alam laysa lana (Lebanon)
It’s a rare occasion that I enjoy a purposely awkward film, but A World Is Not Ours is not awkward because it is channeling Napoleon Dynamite hipness – but because it is a home video surrounding topics which one might never expect to see via home videos. This is awkwardness on screen that feels its way into your bones, as you realize, while watching videos of small children posing jokingly with guns or grown men filmed on cellphones while commenting on how trapped they feel in society, that you’re damned fortunate for being in a movie theatre, or in your home, or wherever, being given the luxury of watching a film from the other side of the world, while some people might never be able to even imagine what that would be like. Not that the film is necessarily purposely trying to be a bummer or anything, necessarily – there certainly seem to be funny casual moments from time-to-time – but often, even those are rooted in scenarios we might consider way too discomforting in their “realness”.
VIEW TRAILER
May 23, 2013 – 3:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 27, 2013 – 8:30 PM Harvard Exit

 

After the Battle – Baad el Mawkeaa (France / Egypt)
This drama is based on the true story of the horsemen President Mubarak hired to stifle the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The horsemen, many of whom were caught between personal poverty and political turmoil during the Arab Spring, were widely condemned by fellow Egyptians following the event. Yousry Nasrallah paints a delicate picture of these horsemen, vilified throughout the country for good reason, but also widely misunderstood for their actions as well. – PETER WOODBURN
VIEW TRAILER
May 23, 2013 – 6:30 PM – AMC Pacific Place 11
May 25, 2013 – 2:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

 

North American Films

A Band Called Death (United States)
When people throw around the names of bands that birthed punk rock, the Motown-based trio Death are often left off the list. This is quite understandable, as the three brothers from a working-class black neighborhood never saw the success that their peers in The Ramones and The Sex Pistols did at the time, and it wasn’t until much later in life that anyone actually heard of the band. Jeff Howlett and Mark Convino craft an interesting documentary in A Band Called Death, doing the most punk rock thing possible — being a punk band without even realizing it. – PETER WOODBURN
May 18, 2013 – 3:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 28, 2013 – 9:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

Blackbird (Canada)
Sean Randall is a social outcast in high school and makes threats online, which, after the terrors of the Newtown shootings, land him in the hands of the police and eventually in jail. Toeing the fine line that of what constitutes enough action to be guilty of jail time, Randall’s experience in Waterville, one of the country’s toughest youth prisons, forces him to realize that although he may have changed, public and media perceptions of the non-teen killer only drive him further down the spiral of depression. – PETER WOODBURN
VIEW TRAILER
May 31, 2013 – 8:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
June 2, 2013 – 11:00 AM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

The Bling Ring (United States)
Perfect companion piece to Spring Breakers? I’ve never been thrilled by a Sofia Coppola film but I wasn’t a big Korine fan either, and his film blew me away. Here’s hoping that these teenage criminals aren’t given some reductivist morally-redemptive ending and the film stays meta. ALLEN HUANG
VIEW TRAILER
June 9, 2013 – 6:30 PM Cinerama (Closing Night Gala)

 

I Declare War (United States)
A group of kids gathered with arms and sticks head off into the woods to play a game of Capture the Flag. On this day, the two sides find out the treacheries of war as their fake weapons turn into real instruments of death in a homage to Stand By Me and Lord of the Flies. – PETER WOODBURN
VIEW TRAILER
May 20, 2013 – 7:00 PM – AMC Pacific Place 11
May 21, 2013 – 4:30 PM – AMC Pacific Place 11

 

Muscle Shoals (United States)
I’m a huge fan of the Numero Group’s archivist efforts, and especially the amount of context they provide with their releases. They’ve devoted chapter after chapter to the musically rich legacy of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and I’m going to eat up every second of this documentary because of that. – Allen Huang
VIEW TRAILER
May 29, 2013 – 7:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 30, 2013 – 4:30 PM – Egyptian Theatre

 

Somm (United States)
The Master Sommelier exam is one of the hardest exams in the world, with one of the lowest passing rates across the globe. Jason Wise follows four individuals attempting to pass the Master Sommelier exam, something less than 200 people have ever done, also granting humorous insights into the bizarre and glamorous world of high-priced wine. – PETER WOODBURN
VIEW TRAILER
June 2, 2013 – 4:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
June 4, 2013 – 7:30 PM – Kirkland Performance Center

 

The Way, Way Back (United States) * TOP PICK *
14-year-old Duncan is forced to spend the summer at his mother’s new boyfriend’s house in this coming-of-age story rife with dysfunction. This is worth seeing just for the directorial debut of Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who won Oscars for writing The Descendants. Featuring Steve Carrell and Sam Rockwell. – PETER WOODBURN
May 25, 2013 – 6:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 26, 2013 – 4:30 PM – Egyptian Theatre

 

Yellow (United States)
Mary Holmes mental breakdowns force wild hallucinations and daddy dreams as a substitute teacher flees to her Oklahoman upbringing to try and get some peace and quiet. Instead of solace, she finds drama in the family that was never resolved when she left home in the first place. Yellow a visually stunning, excessively colorful film showcasing what happens when people truly hit rock bottom. – PETER WOODBURN
VIEW TRAILER
May 23, 2013 – 7:00 PM – Egyptian Theatre
May 24, 2013 – 4:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 25, 2013 – 6:00 PM – Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center

 

 

South American Films

7 Boxes – 7 Cajas (Paraguay)
This low -budget action film from Paraguay proves you don’t need big Hollywood bucks to keep the chase scenes interesting. 17-year-old Victor is offered $100 dollars to deliver the contents of seven boxes across town, and of course, little does he know the boxes contain something from some sinister plot. Soon, he is being chased by both the police and others who want those boxes at a breakneck, foot-racing speed throughout town. – PETER WOODBURN
VIEW TRAILER
May 29, 2013 – 6:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 30, 2013 – 4:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

Éden (Brazil)
What can I say? I love me a good cult film – in the literal, religious dysfunction sense of the term. Éden, which tells the story of a pregnant woman who finds a charismatic evangelist and his strange Church of Éden after her husband is murdered, certainly fits the bill with paranoid tension and visually-striking imagery. Vivian Hua
VIEW TRAILER
June 7, 2013 – 10:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown Uptown
June 8, 2013 – 2:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown Uptown

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