The middle week of SIFF is always my favorite. I usually am in my groove by this midway point; seeing about a film a day, often recognizing other festival goers/members from other screenings and striking up nice conversations and discussions regarding the films we've enjoyed (or not enjoyed) so far.
This halfway point of the festival is also typically when I find myself attending the festival movies solo. There's something about experiencing these films by myself that becomes a form of therapy. The ultimate "me" time. That's not to say that I don't also love going to SIFF with friends - I was lucky to have both experiences this year.
Starred Up - U.K.
Talk about intense. This powerful and gritty drama is set in a Northern Ireland prison and pits son against father. We meet Eric Love, an angry teen prone to explosive fits of rage set off by the slightest action. He's been transferred or "starred up" to an adult prison and within the first 5 minutes of the movie he's already making shanks out of toothbrushes, expertly hiding them in light fixtures, and setting up his bottles of baby oil on a shelf for the purpose of fighting. Eric also preps for meeting his father (played by the always brilliant Ben Mendelsohn) who has been one of the kings of the prison for over a decade. Things just blow up from there. I felt like I was clutching my gut muscles the entire 100 minutes of this film. Not for folks who can't handle seeing grown men get punched within an inch of their lives, but well worth the watch.
Free Range: Ballad on Approving of the World - Estonia
Omigod, this fucking thing. I HATED THIS MOVIE. This goes down as the only SIFF film that I've ever walked out of; I left with about 20 min left because I couldn't stand this self-indulgent piece of crap any longer. One of the reasons I'm so angry is because I feel like I was duped by the SIFF staff programmers. Just take a look at the description:
This stylish Estonian joy ride follows slacker Fred, who struggles with feelings of nihilism after getting fired for writing an unfavorable review of Terrence Malick’s film Tree of Life. Finland’s official OSCAR® submission for Best Foreign Language Film.
That sounds like it would be a pretty good movie, right? You guys, when I say that nothing happens in the first hour of this turd, except for scenes where this dumbass Fred kid just drinks with his weirdo friends and ignores his dumb girlfriend, I'm actually overstating how engaging it was. IT WAS ANNOYING. And I can't believe that Finland had the nerve to submit this for Oscar consideration. What a joke! There is not one redeemable character in this film. When I finally figured out about 90 min in that the waste-oid loser old man who literally lives in a 300 sq ft space filled entirely with books, who Fred confides in was actually his father, and not some misguided bachelor mentor guy, I couldn't take it anymore. I wanted my money and my time back.
Sam and Amira - USA
Thank god I was able to follow up the bad taste that the Estonian crap-fest left in my mouth with this touching and poignant love story. This film traces the relationship between Sam, an American soldier just back from two tours of duty, and Amira, a young Iraqi illegal immigrant on the brink of deportation. Set in NYC in 2008, we follow these two kindred souls find love and support in each other as their families and the city around them fight them at every turn. This was a really beautiful film. I can't believe it is director Sean Mullin's debut feature. And you guys, Martin Starr, yes THAT Martin Starr, was amazing as Sam. Both Starr and Dina Shihabi who played Amira were at the screening I attended. I got a chance to privately talk to them before the official Q&A and tell them how great I thought they both were in the film. They were both very gracious and sweet. And seemed pretty close, like maybe dating close. I hope that Starr is a big enough name that this movie will get a wide release because everyone should see it.