The top 10 SIFF movies I’m dying to see

It’s time again for popcorn, long lines, and epically awesome movies. The 42nd annual Seattle International Film Festival is on and poppin’ through June 12.

With 421 films representing 85 countries, my gift to you is my own personal top ten list. Some I’ve had the chance to screen and some I’m recommending out of sheer fascination.

Southside with You
Tika Sumpter (left) and Parker Sawyers play Michelle Robinson (known today as Michelle Obama) and Barack Obama in "Southside with You." (Photo courtesy SIFF)
Tika Sumpter (left) and Parker Sawyers play Michelle Robinson (known today as Michelle Obama) and Barack Obama in “Southside with You.” (Photo courtesy SIFF)

A.k.a. Barack and Michelle-the love story. My Facebook friends already know the Obamas are my #relationshipgoal so I’m really counting on actors Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter to get it right. Directed by Richard Tanne, the film tells the story of the power couple’s first date, though Michelle keeps insisting“it’s not a date.” It’s been likened to the 1995 romance “Before Sunrise.”

June 11, 7 p.m. – SIFF Cinema Uptown

June 12, 7 p.m. – SIFF Cinema Egyptian

Director Richard Tanne is scheduled to attend both screenings

Action Comandante

What makes someone become a revolutionary? Do you just wake up in the morning and know you’ve endured enough? This documentary chronicles the life and death of Ashley Kriel, a 20-year-old anti-apartheid activist and protest leader. He was known as the “Che Guevara of Bonteheuwel.” Set in South Africa during a time when all the world was watching, it also provides a critique of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. There is a fearlessness to this story that draws me in. This will be the film’s world premier and director Nadine Cloete is scheduled to attend.

May 27, 7:30 p.m.  – SIFF Cinema Uptown

May 28, 12:30 p.m. – SIFF Cinema Uptown

The movie "Tanna" was filmed entirely in Vanuatu. (Photo courtesy SIFF.)
The movie “Tanna” was filmed entirely in Vanuatu. (Photo courtesy SIFF.)

This movie, based on a true story and performed by a cast of the Yakel Tribe, is the first film to be shot entirely on the island nation of Vanuatu. It’s the coming of age story of a young woman whose arranged marriage with the son of a neighboring tribe will be the foundation of peace. She must choose whether to follow her heart or adhere to the wishes of her tribe. One thing I love about SIFF is that it really brings the world to Seattle, and just watching the trailer of this movie I caught a glimpse of a part of the world I’ve never really seen before.

May 23, 8:30 p.m. – Majestic Bay Cinemas

Presenting Princess Shaw

This documentary had me in tears. What began as a story about musicians on YouTube turned into something unexpectedly touching. Samantha Montgomery, 38, lives in New Orleans and works as a nursing assistant to the elderly while trying to jumpstart a career as singer Princess Shaw.

As the camera documents her struggles, we watch her perform her heart-felt soulful original songs to empty rooms and into her own cellphone. Unbeknownst to Princess Shaw, Ophir Kutiel a.k.a Kutiman, an Israeli musician living on a kibbutz outside Tel Aviv is also watching her. Kutiman takes YouTube videos from all over the world and create new musical pieces. This is the understatement of the decade, what he does is some much more ingenious than that. We watch him take footage of Princess Shaw singing a cappella and literally build an entire musical world around it. No spoilers, but I will say it made me believe in the magic of the internet and that there should also be a trigger warner about the discussion of sexual abuse.

Princess Shaw herself attended the two screenings here in Seattle. Though you’ve missed it through SIFF, the documentary will be available on demand through iTunes on May  27.

A still from the documentary "Sonita." (Photo courtesy SIFF.)
A still from the documentary “Sonita.” (Photo courtesy SIFF.)

This documentary takes us to Iran where we meet Sonita Alizadeh a 14-year-old Afghani refugee and rapper. She lives with her sister and niece and has a job cleaning up a refugee center. Her life is her music and her songs tell the stories she’s had to live.  When her estranged mother arrives unexpectedly and tries to sell her into marriage, Sonita asks filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami to intervene.

May 26, 6:30 p.m. –  SIFF Cinema Uptown

May 28, 1 p.m. – Lincoln Square

June 4, 3:30 p;.m. – Shoreline Community College Theater

Angry Indian Goddesses

On the eve of her wedding, Frieda (Sarah-Jane Dias) host an impromptu bachelorette party at a beachside villa in Goa. Her friends are an eclectic group of women including a businesswoman, an aspiring actress, a housewife, a singer/songwriter and a house servant. Their conversations explore what it mean to be a woman in India.

May 23, 7 p.m. – SIFF Cinema Uptown

May  27, 6 p.m. –  Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center

May 28, 6:30 p.m. – Lincoln Square

The Revolution Won’t Be Televised

This documentary directed by Rama Thiaw takes us to the scene of a youth-led revolution in Senegal. In 2011, President Abdoulaye Wade announced his intention to run for a third term, which is forbidden by the Senegal constitution, setting the stage for young rappers Thiat and Kilifeu, to start the movement “Y’en A Marre” (“We Are Fed Up”). Music, political protests, and young people finding their voice through resistance are a few of my favorite things. Rama Thiaw will be at both screenings to answer questions.

May 26, 6 p.m. – SIFF Cinema Uptown

May 27, 3:30 p.m. – SIFF Cinema Uptown

The Last King

This feature film out of Norway was described to me as “Game of Thrones” on skis. Set in the breathtaking frozen tundra of 11th-century Norway, there are shaggy ponies, epic battles, and yes, chase scenes that take place on skis. While the plot is predictable, it still makes the list both because of the incredible scenery and the delightfully snarky humor that peppers the intense action scenes.

May 20, 7 p.m. –  Majestic Bay Theatres

May 23, 9:30 p.m. – SIFF Cinema Egyptian<

Morris from America
Markees Christmas (center) plays the title character in "Morris from America." (Photo courtesy SIFF.)
Markees Christmas (center) plays the title character in “Morris from America.” (Photo courtesy SIFF.)

This is a quiet coming of age film about a 13-year-old black boy named Morris who moves to Germany when his father is relocated for work. When I was 9 years old, my mom and I moved from Denver, Colorado to Middleton, Wisconsin and there were scenes from this movie that took me straight back to that time — being the only black kid in the room, having even adults make racist assumptions and trying to figure out how to make friends.

And of course for Morris, there is a girl and also a friendly teacher who attempts to befriend him, but the real magic in this movie is between Morris and his father. The father is played by Craig Robinson, who you might know from “The Office,” “Hot Tub Time Machine” and those hilariously stupid Super Bowl commercials. This is the first non-comedic role I’ve seen Robinson play. Though young actor Markees Christmas gives a great performance as Morris, he and Robinson together is what carries the movie.

June 1, 7 p.m. – SIFF Cinema Egyptian

June 2, 4:30 p.m. – SIFF Cinema Egyptian

Chicken People
Competitive chicken breeding is a thing, as the movie "Chicken People" shows. (Photo courtesy SIFF)
Competitive chicken breeding is a thing, as the movie “Chicken People” documents. (Photo courtesy SIFF)

Though I live next door to whole flock of chickens who regularly descend upon my backyard to dig up worms beneath my apple tree, I don’t think they are show chickens. Apparently there is such a thing as competitive chicken breeding. Nicole Lucas Haimes made a movie about it and I want to see it out of sheer curiosity.

June 10, 7 p.m. – SIFF Cinema Egyptian

June 11, 3:30 p.m. – SIFF Cinema Uptown


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