Top Picks for the 2021 Seattle International Film Festival

The 47th annual SIFF Lineup Has Been Announced
March 22, 2021
If you missed its premiere at Sundance this year, you'll have another chance to catch James Redford’s Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, a portrait of the Joy Luck Club author, at SIFF next month. (SIFF)

2020 was the Year Without a SIFF (and a lot of other things, thanks to COVID cancelations), but the largest film festival in the country, now in its 47th year, is gearing up for its comeback from April 8-18! Pivoting to an all-virtual program, the festival will bring over 90 features and 100 short films to you, meaning you won't have to rush to a coveted matinee screening at a SIFF theater across town. We've rounded up a preview of the films we're most excited about, from Bassam Tariq's Mogul Mowgli starring Sound of Metal's Riz Ahmed to Seattle director SJ Chiro's East of the Mountains, plus the opening-night film The Dry and the closing-night film Rosa's Wedding. 

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir
SIFF says: James Redford’s final film is an illuminating rendering of author Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club) through her own family photo albums and video footage, linking her prolific and groundbreaking work with the generations of women and immigrants before her.

The Stranger adds: Novelist and Chinese-American icon Amy Tan gets her due with this well-timed retrospective. (Read Chase Burns's review here.)

Captains of Zaatari
SIFF says: A rousing, heartfelt tale about two soccer-obsessed Syrian friends living in Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp who, upon learning that a famed Qatari sports academy is visiting the camp, may have finally found their ticket to a bigger, brighter future.

SIFF says: Enid, a film censor involved with the “video nasties” slate of 1980s horror films, journeys into a dark, unsettling fairytale world when she happens upon a cult film that might explain her sister’s disappearance years earlier.

Stranger adds: In many ways, Censor creates its own tradition of horror. Even as it loves trashy horror flicks of decades-old, Censor becomes a beast all its own. (Read Chase Hutchinson's full review here.)

SIFF says: A complex and empathetic portrayal of motherhood in conflict with self-preservation, a recent divorcée kidnaps her estranged children and spirits them away to the Canary Islands. From the director of Sami Blood, SIFF 2017 Grand Jury Prize winner.

The Stranger adds: This taut Swedish drama directed by Amanda Kernell (Sami) follows Alice (Ane Dahl Torp), a mother deep in the trenches of a custody battle with her ex-husband over their two children. (Read Jasmyne Keimig's review here.)

Deadly Cuts
SIFF says: They’re going to do more than “take a little off the top” in Rachel Carey’s blackly comic feature debut, as a group of working-class Dublin hairdressers become accidental vigilantes to protect themselves from the local gang threatening their neighborhood.

The Stranger adds: There are films that one can watch alone, and films that one can only enjoy with other people. Rachel Carey's Deadly Cuts is certainly in the latter category. (Read Charles Mudede's review here.)

The Dry (Opening Night Film)
SIFF says: Eric Bana returns to Australian cinema in this crackling neo-noir murder mystery about a tortured Melbourne detective drawn back to his outback hometown of Kiewarra to investigate the death of a childhood friend.

The Stranger adds: Eric Bana is who? Aaron Falk, an agent employed by the Aussie government. What's his problem? His close friend from years ago killed himself after murdering his wife and kid. But there is more to the story, right? Yes, there is. (Read Charles Mudede's review here.)

East of the Mountains
SIFF says: Local filmmaker SJ Chiro directs Tom Skerritt in this heartrending tale, based on the novel by David Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars), about a terminally ill, retired heart surgeon who journeys back to Eastern Washington to end his life.

The Stranger adds: SJ Chiro is our favorite cousin. (Read Charles Mudede's review here.)

Get the Hell Out
SIFF says: Politics may bring out the worst in us, but nothing compares to the events in this action-packed Grand Guignol comedy about a team of activists, legislators, and civilians going up against a parliament filled with hyperactive zombie mutants infected with “idiot rabies.”

The Stranger adds: I-Fan Wang's first feature film is a political zombie comedy made for our strange, bleak era. (Read Chase Burns's review here.)

I'M FINE (Thanks for Asking)
SIFF says: A recently widowed mother on the outer edges of Los Angeles works her rollerskating tail off to get her and her eight-year-old daughter off the streets, over one long day of pawn shop negotiations, food app delivery mishaps, and shady landlords.

In the Same Breath
SIFF says: Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation) directs this tragic, revealing, and journalistically risky contextualization of the COVID-19 outbreak, spotlighting the similar Chinese and American government propagandic responses to the once-in-a-century pandemic that brought the world to a standstill.

The Stranger adds: If living through a full year of a pandemic didn’t completely wreck you, this might do the trick. (Read Chase Burns's review here.)

Ma Belle, Ma Beauty
SIFF says: Set in the sun-drenched vineyards of southern France, two newlywed musicians adjusting to their new European life get a sudden visit from Lane, the former third party in their polyamorous relationship back in New Orleans.

Stranger adds: Ma Belle, My Beauty is a fun and engaging study of queer relationships, polyamory, and how fucking SICK slurping wine in the French countryside can look. The film opens with Fred and Bertie (Lucien Guignard and Idella Johnson), two recently married musicians who live in Fred's parents' beautiful farmhouse in the south of France. A depressed Bertie feels like a stranger in a strange land, hardly finding the will to sing despite her upcoming tour. In an attempt to raise her spirits, Fred invites their ex-lover from their life in New Orleans, Lane (Hannah Pepper-Cunningham), to the property as a surprise. Sensuous parties, heartbreak revisited, strained silences, soaring music, and really hot sex ensue. (Read Jasmyne Keimig's full review here.)

Mogul Mowgli
SIFF says: Oscar nominee Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal, The Night Of) co-authors and stars in this drama about an up-and-coming British rapper who develops an autoimmune degenerative disorder, forcing him to move back in with his traditional-minded Pakistani family.

The Stranger adds: Riz Ahmed gets to play with our hearts again in Mogul Mowgli, another star-making turn for the rising actor. (Read Jasmyne Keimig's review here.)

The Pink Cloud
SIFF says: When a mysterious and lethal pink cloud appears over a Brazilian city, two people engaging in a one-night stand are forced to quarantine together over several years in this eerie and prescient science-fiction film that now seems all too real.

The Stranger adds: This COVID-19 sci-fi thriller actually has nothing to do with COVID-19. (Read Chase Burns's review here.)

Potato Dreams of America
SIFF says: From Wes Hurley, the creator of famed local webseries “Capitol Hill,” comes an autobiographical coming-of-age dark comedy about a young closeted Russian boy in the disintegrating USSR who moves to Seattle with his prison doctor-turned-mail-order bride single mother.

The Stranger adds: This deeply Seattle endeavor from Wes Hurley is an autobiographical coming-of-age dark comedy about growing up gay in Russia. (Read Matt Baume's review here.)

Riders of Justice
SIFF says: Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round) reunites with the writer/director of Men & Chicken in this pitch-black screwball comedy of revenge, starring as a heartbroken man whose wife’s suspicious death in a train crash leads to outlandish conspiracy theories and gangland bloodshed.

The Stranger adds: While American productions often cast him as a villain, in his native Denmark, people see Mads Mikkelsen as a high-cheekboned, relatable everyman. Homeboy has range. (Read Jasmyne Keimig's review here.)

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It
SIFF says: Rita’s gonna get her kicks tonight. A close-up on Rita Moreno, now an ebullient 89 and one of the few actors from Hollywood’s studio era still working today, from her childhood in Puerto Rico to her illustrious career on Broadway and in Hollywood.

Rosa's Wedding (Closing Night Film)
SIFF says: In this joyful Catalan dramedy, costume designer Rosa is about to turn 45 and sick of being taken for granted, taken advantage of, and putting out other people’s fires. Taking control of her own life, she announces a surprise engagement to a mysterious suitor, much to the dismay of her family.

The Stranger adds: Get ready for wedding bells in this undemanding, breezy romcom that defies convention. (Read Jasmyne Keimig's review here.)

SIFF says: In Charlène Favier’s timely and unsentimental feature debut that explores when mentorship becomes abuse, up-and-coming actress Noée Abita (Sink or Swim) plays a 15-year-old skiing prodigy in training who falls prey to her manipulative and lecherous coach (Jérémie Renier, In Bruges).

The Stranger adds: A tense look at an abusive and predatory relationship between a coach and athlete, set against the backdrop of the French Alps. (Read Jasmyne Keimig's review here.)

Strawberry Mansion
SIFF says: In this sweet and colorful bit of surrealistic speculative fiction set in the near future, a “dream auditor” on assignment becomes obsessed with an aging eccentric and, while investigating the VHS archive of her subconscious, happens upon a chance at love.

The Stranger adds: Weed is a prerequisite for this one. (Read Chase Burns's review here.)

Under the Open Sky
SIFF says: Yakusho Kôji (The Third Murder) gives a riveting performance as a lifelong Yakuza, released from prison after 13 years, whose journey to find the mother who abandoned him as a child is hindered by his gangster past.

Veins of the World
SIFF says: Eleven-year-old Amra lives in a traditional nomad community on the Mongolian steppe, which is threatened by the influx of global mining companies. He longs for a modern way of life, but when his father tragically dies, Amra must honor his father’s legacy and fight to protect his community.