My Best of SIFF is “Driveways”

The best film I saw at SIFF was Andrew Ahn’s Driveways. In this brilliant lo-fi creation a Korean-American single mom and her shy, sensitive 9 year old son are transported to a small town in upstate New York to clear out her late, estranged sister’s house for sale. Hoping for a quick turn-around, they discover sister was a hoarder, the house is jammed full and they will be stuck there for an indefinite period of time. The nearest neighbor kids are thugs in training. And the next door neighbor is a reclusive widower who sits on his porch, a Korean War hat pulled low over his eyes, eyeing them with suspicion across the driveway.

 In the wrong hands, this could turn into a Hallmark movie. Instead, Director Ahn has produced what Variety called an “uncommon and all-too-welcome gift — like some kind of fragile wildflower, emerging tentatively through cracks in the concrete: a film about kindness.”

I love character-centered stories where subtle details are spotted like Baby Blue Eyes here and there across an alpine meadow. Driveways is the exact opposite of an action film: it doesn’t use slick production values or CGI, the characters are ordinary mortals, the setting is small town not Metropolis, and the stakes are not saving the world from cosmic forces but something of the heart that cannot be seen or heard, but only felt.

Hong Chau (Downsizing) as Kathy, newcomer Lucas Jaye as Cody and veteran actor Brian Dennehy as Del all give remarkable performances, nuanced, sensitive, ringing true. There is no happily ever after here, but there is a moment at the end that feels like peace.

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LATE NIGHT Worth Watching

Went to SIFF’s Centerpiece Gala, Late Night. A curious echo between the script (young savvy minority female writer helps aging comedian update her show) and the project (young hot savvy minority female writer writes script for a movie star on the downward side of the beauty curve). The camera gives us Thompson’s wrinkles as well as her flashing smile in a film that veers from comedy to drama in curious moments. Ate dinner after with a former TV PR person, a film historian, and the wife of an actor/comedian. Mindy Kaling’s script was judged to be spot on in its depiction of the sexist-corporate-ageist world of Hollywood. They agreed the only improbability about the whole story was that a woman would be part of the all-male late night TV club in the first place. #latenight

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Gutk’odau (Yellow)

A documentary short (8 min) that SIFF has paired with the documentary N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear, the film is experimental in that there is no plot. Rather a lesson in the Kiowa language is accompanied by stunning views and sounds of the open prairie land.

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Words From A Bear

SIFF is showing this thoughtful documentary about the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet and artist, focused on how his Kiowa roots inform his work. An oral storyteller who has successfully brought his heritage into the print and art mediums, as well as a very warm, very human person, Momaday is what every grandfather would love to be to his descendants.

N. Scott Momaday: Words From A Bear will be shown on PBS in November

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THE APOLLO is a Feast

Oscar winning director Roger Ross Williams (2010 doc short Music by Prudence) must have broken his heart making The Apollo. Because there’s so much you can’t include. Opened in 1934 decades it was the pinhole through which African American art and dance and music were projected into prominence. The Apollo Theater not only presented them in front of an elegant audience, but through the long running Wednesday Amateur Nights the theater launched legendary careers. Like the girl who forgot the words to her song and had to improvise—Ella Fitzgerald. Great vintage photos and footage make it a visual feast. Backstage, back of the house, including the preparation given about booing to Amateur Night participants, there’s  a lot of vital history is preserved here in a lively entertaining fashion. #theapollo

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