Making Life into Spectacle at the Seattle International Film Festival

I’m happy to have realized that enjoying independent movies doesn’t require that one become a stuffy bourgeois nitwit. While it feels like you have to put on a collared shirt to visit an opening night at an art gallery, and maybe even a bow tie for the symphony, nobody cares what you’re wearing in the darkness of a movie theater. Even intellectually stimulating movies are pretty much shown to a level playing field. I think independent movies often reflect this fact by entertaining us with glimpses of fairly commonplace experiences.

The positive effect of all this is that even if it’s outwardly clear that I’m the kind of guy who’ll laugh at a fart joke, I need not pretend otherwise to enjoy quality cinema. Recognizing my tasteful sensibilities, the Seattle International Film Festival has presented me with opportunities to preview some of their fine offerings. Here are two movies soon to be shown at SIFF that truly celebrate the spirit of ordinary people.

 

“Mistaken for Strangers”

Tom Berninger is the brother of Matt Berninger, lead-singer for the band, The National. “You’re more famous than any of my friends,” Tom points out to Matt in the movie. Tom doesn’t have any famous friends. As anyone who has siblings can confirm, success like Matt’s can make for a tense family dynamic.

Tom’s documentary is as lucid as it is touching, following his experience as a roadie for the group along its world tour. From a totally meta-type perspective with seemingly no cut-scenes or editing, he shows viewers exactly how disappointingly un-rockstarish a rock star band can be these days and how much work it takes to put on mega concerts. As the doc progresses, Tom’s constant and honest filming reveals a profound truth: that we’re all just regular Joe’s with regular problems when our souls are on display. This is especially true of relationships and history among family members.

Despite the feeling of watching something made by a total amateur, when it’s all over, there’s a real sense of having witnessed pure genius. “Mistaken for Strangers” gives one the impression that anyone’s life could be made into a great movie. Tom Berninger is going to be famous.

Festival Screenings:

Monday, May 20, Egyptian Theater, 7 p.m. – Director Tom Berninger scheduled to attend

Tuesday, May 21, Egyptian Theater, 4 p.m. – Director Tom Berninger scheduled to attend

 

“C.O.G.”

David Sedaris is pretty unanimously revered among readers. It’s not his sordidly masochistic adventures that we admire, but the way he makes us feel as we take pleasure at every misadventure that fills his books. “C.O.G.” is a similarly hilarious anecdote of his foolish bumbling while conversely snaring audiences with his dry wit.

This time, Sedaris has plopped himself into Oregon where his dreamy Yale intellectualism is less than helpful for making friends or pulling apples off of trees in the orchard where he labors. Being a glutton for punishment, we get to watch Sedaris try to do just that with cringing results.

Did I mention that David Sedaris is laugh-out-loud funny? His writing covers regular old slice-of-life situations, but it’s his observations of our collective everyday absurdity that we love. Like him, I find that the more I adopt an awareness toward the day-to-day happenings of life, the more amused I become by the spectacle of it all. One need not be cynical about it either; in fact, it’s far better to experience it all open-eyed and with an open heart the way David does in “C.O.G.” Under the tutelage of Sedaris, even Mondays can be a riot.

Festival Screenings:

Friday, May 24, Egyptian Theatre, 4 p.m. – Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez scheduled to attend.

Sunday, May 26, Egyptian Theatre, 7 p.m. – Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez scheduled to attend.

Monday, May 27, Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, 6 p.m.

Photo courtesy of Seattle International Film Festival.

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