The 26 Films You Should See at SIFF 2016 Over Memorial Day Weekend

Where to See Ewan McGregor, Greta Gerwig, And More Big-Time Actors Before Everyone Else
May 26, 2016
How can you go wrong with Our Kind of Traitor, featuring a couple of the greatest actors currently drawing breath and one great movie star who deserves to be forgiven at long last for appearing in the Star Wars prequels?

The long Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to head to a movie theater—especially one of the excellent Seattle International Film Festival films. See all of our critics' picks below (along with links to buy tickets and see trailers). For the rest of the films playing at SIFF this weekend, as well as through the end of the festival on June 12, see our complete SIFF Guide.

1. The Island Funeral
Contemporary World Cinema (Thailand)
A Muslim brother and sister travel to an unfamiliar section of Thailand with their friend in tow, only to find the landscape becoming less hospitable with every passing mile. While a certain amount of meandering is expected in any road movie, director/cowriter Pimpaka Towira’s beautifully ominous mood piece gets thorny gratifyingly fast, raising a number of lingering political and religious issues with no easy resolutions. Spooky, in a way that sticks. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

2. Last Cab to Darwin
Contemporary World Cinema (Australia)
A man in the Australian outback travels to Darwin to take advantage of newly passed right-to-die legislation. He is a white man in love with a black woman, which starts as a secret source of painful shame—but looming death ever-so-slowly overrides his intense fear of judgment; also, he makes a few good friends along the way, including a cute boy who is mysteriously (and probably mistakenly, from a narrative standpoint) replaced by a cute girl. Charming, sad, and beautifully ugly. (JULIA RABAN)

3. Paths of the Soul
Contemporary World Cinema (China)
A small village of Chinese Buddhists decide to travel the thousand-plus miles to Tibet’s holy mountain. On foot. Through sleet and snow. Miraculously, their particular method of on-the-move kowtowing remains strange and wonderful to watch, even after the thousandth repetition. Absolutely hypnotic, and spiritual in a way that won’t leave the viewer feeling ill-used afterward. A simple shot of tattered prayer banners flapping in the wind is somehow the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all festival. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

4. Tag
Midnight Adrenaline
A Japanese schoolgirl’s no good, very bad day includes bouts of body swapping, waves of heavily armed teachers, and a marriage proposal from a rather well-dressed man-pig. (There’s also some weird stuff.) The very first scene of this fairly indescribable sci-fi/horror hybrid features a splattery sight gag that should by all rights be impossible to top. Damned if director Sion Sono doesn’t try, though, launching a constant stream of absurdist, skeevy, and occasionally even poetic vignettes. Ideal late night viewing, really. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

5. Zud
Contemporary World Cinema (Germany)
A financially teetering Mongolian family pins their hopes and dreams on their 11-year-old son’s showing in an upcoming horse race. This feature debut of well-regarded Polish shorts director Marta Minorowicz uses its combination of widescreen vistas and mundane tasks to frequently stunning effect, including a jarringly matter-of-fact moment of impromptu horse dentistry. Compelling and fiercely gorgeous, even when it occasionally drifts into downright miserablism. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

6. Action Comandante
African Pictures
Ashley Kriel is to South Africa what Fred Hampton is to the United States. Both died young (Kriel, 20; Hampton, 21), both were killed by law enforcers, both developed a mature political consciousness at a preternaturally early age. Action Comandante employs a vivid mix of interviews and old and new footage to capture the very brief time Kriel spent in life (between 1966 and 1987). He was politically active for almost seven of those years. His sense of the injustice of the apartheid system was so unusually intense, he left a strong impression on the people he met and worked with. This kind of intensity is needed for the youth of our day to challenge climate change. You must protest and arrest the market-driven system that’s destroying the world which contains your entire future. Amandla! Awethu! (CHARLES MUDEDE)

7. Another Evil
Midnight Adrenaline
What do you do when your weekend house is haunted? Hire a ghost hunter to come in and get rid of the pesky spirits. (One has to wonder if this is a jerky move. Can’t you just try to get along with them?) But now what’s worse, having an awkward weirdo in your house with you for a week or the original haunting problem? Dan (Steve Zissis) and Os (Mark Proksch) spend some forced time together, and things deteriorate from there. Another Evil is a different kind of horror film, with more total weirdness and less blood and guts. (GILLIAN ANDERSON)

8. Dead Slow Ahead
Don't Miss | Alternate Cinema
I’m still trying to figure out if this is the greatest film I have seen since Carlos Reygadas’s Silent Light (2009). It just might be. I will know for sure in two weeks. At that time, I will look back into my mind and recall all of those stunning images: the slowly swaying ship, the continents of clouds, the unearthly endlessness of the sea. These images were shot and composed by the film’s director, Mauro Herce, who is also a cinematographer. Dead Slow Ahead aestheticizes and even the dehumanizes the mega-machine. Humans made these massive objects. They dwarf us and have a godlike presence. We worship and love our mega-machines. They might save us one day. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

9. Heaven Can Wait
Archival Presentations
After a lifetime of wandering eyes, an unrepentant playboy (Don Ameche) tries to talk his way into Hades. The Devil, however, proves to be a hard sell. Director Ernst Lubitsch’s legendary gift for gab was never more on point than in this 1943 masterpiece, which is one of those movies where everything just hums. Funny and altogether gorgeous, with some surprisingly weighty themes smuggled underneath. And then Gene Tierney shows up and rockets the thing into the hereafter. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

10. Sonita
Don't Miss | Documentary
In Sonita, a young Afghan female rapper dreams of becoming famous like Nicki Minaj, of having lots of screaming fans, and of not being forced to marry some old man for money. She lives in Tehran, Iran, and most of her family still lives in war-torn Afghanistan. During a session of drama therapy, we learn how her father and brother were killed right in front of her and her mother. Rapping is all she has got. And when she gets one chance to make a song and a video, she becomes an internet hit. This music video, which is at the center of the documentary, is one of the best I have ever seen in my life. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

11. Warehoused
Don't Miss | Contemporary World Cinema (Mexico)
A contemporary Mexican take on Waiting for Godot, but less absurdist and easier to digest. Instead of tackling ideas of God and religion, Warehoused comments on work and labor—the seemingly unquestioned ruler of our time. With deeply funny and charismatic characters as well as engaging philosophical commentary, this is one of the few SIFF films sure to please any crowd. (JULIA RABAN)

12. Eye of the Storm
African Pictures
Finally, a film about black African child soldiers that is not predictable or exploitive or reheats themes and images found in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (“the horror, the horror”). And yet, Eye of the Storm has the musculature of a Hollywood film. It moves, feels, and is edited like a movie that has a big budget, big names, and big themes. Even some of the tension and twists in the plot are the kinds studio executives expect from a script. The hero, a lawyer, is expertly performed by Maimouna N’Diaye; and the villain, a former child soldier, is overdone just a little bit by Fargass Assandé. But he is still a pleasure to watch. Indeed, the scene when, while in his prison cell, the villain grabs a lit cigarette, inhales its smoke with a great desperation and intensity, and exhales with the satisfaction of a cool sun coming out of the clouds after a storm suddenly clears will be imprinted on your mind forever. (If you have recently quit smoking, close your eyes during this scene—it will make nonsense of your resolve.) (CHARLES MUDEDE)

13. The Girl Who Saved My Life
Don't Miss | Documentary
The thirtysomething director, Hogir Hirori, leaves peaceful Sweden and his pregnant wife and returns to his homeland, Kurdistan, to make a documentary about the refugee catastrophe caused by the gang called ISIS. At the beginning of the doc, Hirori interviews both refugees, who are Yazidis (non-Muslims), and ISIS criminals, who are killing Yazidi men who do not convert to Islam. In one scene, a Yazidi young man is killed by an ISIS criminal and his money and Samsung smartphone are taken from his body. The smartphone rings. The ISIS criminal answers the call. It is the mother of the man he has just killed... Though the documentary is not easy to watch, you have to do so. You need to see this chaos and misery that is very much a part of the world you live in. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

14. Long Way North
Attempting to regain her family’s honor, a young Russian girl travels to the frozen wastes on a quest for a lost heirloom. Utilizing a cannily limited animation style reminiscent of the old Zelda: Wind Waker game, this French-Danish cartoon manages to evoke both Jack London and Miyazaki. The message is unforced, the protagonist is realistically strong, and the scenes of lonely Arctic desolation carry a genuinely uneasy charge. All this, plus a just perfectly designed dog, to boot. More dog, please. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

15. Sparrows
Contemporary World Cinema (Iceland)
Sparrows, set in the dramatic, watery gray landscape of West Iceland, moves at a sluggish, almost somnambulant, pace. The film’s speed seems to be at odds with the topic it explores—masculinity, specifically as seen through the relationship between a quiet teenager named Ari and his estranged, alcoholic father. But what director Rúnar Rúnarsson really demonstrates—quietly, insistently, effectively—is the slow, insidious ways traditional notions of masculinity threaten to destroy all of us. (ANGELA GARBES)

16. Illegitimate
Contemporary World Cinema (Romania)
The fact that lovely old papa was an informer and denied women abortions during the Communist regime is revealed in the first 10 minutes of Illegitimate—and that news is dull compared to the rest of the scandal. With equal parts shouting and silence, the film develops various arguments about morality and legality as negotiated by a tight-knit Romanian family. Expect drama worthy of a prime-time soap opera slot wrapped in an earnest indie movie package, featuring a cast of characters that come across as generally unaffected and touchingly genuine. (JULIA RABAN)

17. The Memory of Fish
Northwest Connections
No one loved the Elwha River like Dick Goin, a machinist-turned-activist who grew up along its borders. At a time when scientists were busy elsewhere, he kept track of the dwindling salmon population, filling notebooks with his findings. "Dams and fish can’t work together at all," he states, so he made dam removal his mission. Alongside narration from Lili Taylor, codirectors Jennifer Galvin and Sachi Cunningham tell Goin's story through stunning nature imagery and his lyrical words. As he concludes, "A river doesn't want to be tethered." This is a lovely tribute to one of the Northwest’s most passionate conservationists. (KATHY FENNESSY)

18. Our Kind of Traitor
Special Presentations
You know you’re hankering for a little more John Le Carré, especially now that you’ve seen the finale of The Night Manager. Throw in a couple of the greatest actors currently drawing breath (Damian Lewis, Stellan Skarsgärd) and one great movie star who deserves to be forgiven at long last for appearing in the Star Wars prequels (Ewan McGregor, long may he run), and how can you really go wrong? (SEAN NELSON)

19. Truman
Special Presentations
All I need to say about this softly sad comedy that is set in the capital of the Spanish-speaking world, Madrid, and concerns two middle-aged friends (one of whom, played by the great Argentinian actor, Ricardo Darin, is dying of cancer), and the dying man’s dog, named Truman, is that it has a really funny and even satisfying ending. It caught me by surprise. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

20. Wiener-Dog
New American Cinema
The notion that Dawn Wiener from Welcome to the Dollhouse grew up to be Greta Gerwig is only the least tantalizing element of Todd Solondz’s new film, which promises to continue the postmodern tricks that served him so beautifully in Palindromes and Life During Wartime. (SEAN NELSON)

21. BANG! The Bert Berns Story
Face the Music
If you’re still sad that season one of Vinyl was such a bummer, I heartily recommend this lively, knowing documentary about the intersection of early rock ’n’ roll and organized crime, and the troubling life of the hustler/genius/impresario behind many of your actual favorite soul, R&B, and pop songs of all time. (SEAN NELSON)

22. Checks and Balances
Don't Miss | African Pictures
The best film in the festival’s 2014 African Pictures section was certainly Merzak Allouache’s The Rooftops. This year, it just might be Malek Bensmail’s Checks and Balances. Both are set in the beautiful seaside city of Algiers, Algeria’s capital. The Rooftops, however, is a feature film, and Checks and Balances is not. It is instead an impressively crafted documentary about El Watan, a French-speaking pro-democracy newspaper. We get to see the reporters argue about their beliefs, editors plan for issues, and editorial meetings where the day’s events are analyzed and opinions exchanged. Everyone who works for a newspaper in Seattle should see this documentary. It will give us all some much-needed perspective. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

23. Family Film
New Directors Competition
I'm reminded of the 2004 Japanese film Nobody Knows. In it, a mother feels overwhelmed by her responsibilities and flees her home, leaving four children behind to fend for themselves. Family Film raises some interesting parallel questions: Can children succeed when left to their own devices? What does separation do to a child's psyche? I admire the movie for its hollow style, as the loneliness that the characters feel resonates in the emptiness of its production design, but more importantly, a tale where separation meets technologic attachment: Does loneliness change when you're a Skype call away? (JACOB LICHTY)

24. Finding October
Northwest Connections
Have you been watching too many serious, dark dramas about teens in trouble with no hope or no way out? Do you feel a certain hopelessness creeping into your soul as you struggle to find some bastion of happiness in a fast and ever-stressful world? Do you want to watch a movie made by young local filmmakers? I encourage you to see Finding October, a fictional docu-diary of an interrupted road trip between two friends. It is a nice little dish of sorbet to break up the specter of gloom and death fast approaching. Maybe I've been watching too many dark movies today. (JACOB LICHTY)

25. Other Girls
FutureWave (Youth Filmmakers)
Four friends on the brink of independence deal with such hot topics as impulsive relationships, unexpected pregnancies, same-sex attractions, and the perils of playing hockey. Writer/director Esa Illi based the script on actual video diaries from Finnish teens, which explains the awkward realness of the emotions on display, as well as the occasional appearance of cartoon hearts in the background. Fast moving, well acted, and insightful, with a theme song that will never, ever leave your brain. (ANDREW WRIGHT)

26. Rainbow
Chotu and Pari are an orphaned brother and sister living with their stingy aunt and lazy uncle in the rural desert of Rajasthan, India. Chotu is blind, and his sister helps him move through the world. The duo embarks on a journey to find a Bollywood actor who they think can help Chotu regain his eyesight. On the way, they meet the breadth of humanity: truck drivers, mystics, hippie adventurers, villains, feminist bandits, and peculiar folks. The film is delightful, with lots of bright colors, good music, and neat camels. The kids aren’t too precious, and the story is sweetly entertaining but not overly cheesy. (GILLIAN ANDERSON)