The Seattle International Film Festival chose a very interesting tact when navigating the treacherous of waters of the snooty film festival circuit. It knew it couldn’t be the most prestigious, it knew it couldn’t be the earliest, and it knew it couldn’t be the most in Austin and called SXSW. So what was left?

BE THE BIGGEST, LONGEST, MOSTEST FILM FESTIVAL EVER!

Which is great, unless you live a normal life (note: I don’t) and value your time (note: I also don’t) when SIFFting through the 400+ films from 90 countries taking place over a full month of festival-ing.

What is one to do?

Well dear readers, who I assume are like 3 of my close friends (hi, Hanna!), I have put in the time, and put in the work to distill this year’s festival into a list of must sees that is guaranteed to be a shorter list than all the films combined — and probably not much else. Let’s get started!

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How to pick SIFF films like a professional….cheater

Selecting films to watch at SIFF is like grabbing a big old handful of Jelly Belly ™ presents Harry Potter ™ presents Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans ™. Sometimes you get lovely flavours like “cherry” or “green apple,” and sometimes you get mind-stretchingly insane flavouuuuurs like “grass” and (seriously wtf Harry Potter™?) “vomit.”

This is why I find it wise to draft behind the giant semi-truck of the masses, and when in doubt, to the crowd, sellout (and use Yoda speak when it helps you rhyme).

Here’s what you do:

1 - Go to the SIFF calendar: https://www.siff.net/calendar

2 - Skip forward through the days looking for the yellow “Limited Availability” indictor, like this:

3 - Give it the ole sniff test — i.e. does it look mildly interesting?

4 - Forget your own intuition and grab a ticket. What, you think you’re some kind of connoisseur of independent film? You think you’re really in the place to say, “Sorry, but I’m waiting for the good films from the Democratic Republic of Congo.” You think you know better than people spending $5000 to go this crazy festival? Well excuuuuse me, Nicolas Winding Refn!

No, f**k The Neon Demon

I’ve enjoyed just about every movie I’ve gone to see that the rest of the film nerds attending SIFF decided to dive on early. They occasionally steer you wrong, but if everyone else wants to see it, you probably won’t be disappointed.

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But what are YOUUUU watching!?!

Okay, okay, now that my secret selection method has been revealed, here’s what I actually decided lay down my dwindling funds to see.

Butterflies | Turkey | Tolga Karacelik

This was definitely one of the “huh, why is this already on limited availability 2 weeks before the festival” finds. The “three-siblings reunite and discover the true meaning of family” vibe sort of turned me off to being with, but the fact that one of the brothers dresses up in a spacesuit, and the trailer features an exploding chicken, well, you had me at exploding chicken, Tolga!

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Michelin Stars: Tales from the Kitchen | Denmark | Rasmus Dinesen

In 2018, the tolerant, post-kink-shaming world that we all enjoy, I am no longer afraid to admit that I have what I would consider a perfectly healthy addiction to food porn. And seriously, a film about the top chefs in the world unloading about their perfectly unhealthy addiction to the French tire company Michelin’s guide to restaurants and hotels, how is that not going to be the best?

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Prospect | USA | Zeek Earl, Chris Caldwell

I’m a sucker for sci-fi, especially sci-fi filmed in the backyard of our own Pacific Northwest. I will say, sci-fi films at SIFF tend to be the most variant in quality (turns out it’s really hard to make a good sci-fi on a small budget), but having heard that Prospect was recently picked up for limited distribution is a good sign. The film was also much loved at SXSW, and well, when has SXSW ever gotten anything wrong…

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Won’t Your Be My Neighbor | USA | Morgan Neville

You don’t want to see a Mr. Rogers documentary? What kind of monster are you!?! Try caring a little, you see… it’s such a good, feeling, to know you’re alive, it’s such a happy feeling, you’re growing inside, and when you wake up, ready to say… I think I’ll make a snappy to-day *snap* *snap* :)

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Pig | Iran | Mani Haghighi

One of the weirdest, most amazing films of last year’s SIFF was call A Dragon Arrives!, and this year Mani Haghighi is bringing an equally weird, black comedy about a serial killer who’s offing Tehran’s greatest directors, and a has-been director who’s annoyed that the serial killer hasn’t killed him yet. The concept is genius, and if it has half the style of Haghighi’s last work, this should be one of the best films of the festival.

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| Austria | Johann Lurf

One of the great things about film festivals is the opportunity to see things on a big screen that would never be shown commercially. Johann Lurf’s word-free-titled film cuts together shots of heavenly bodies from 553 movies, edited in chronological order, with their original soundtracks. It’s by far the most experimental piece at SIFF, and despite sounding like the kind of YouTube video that would get its 15 min of fame on the front page of Reddit, this 99 minute, evolution-of-film documentary/clip show/science experiment is the kind of weird that I ❤.

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Brewmaster | USA | Douglas Tirola

This isn’t the first documentary to tackle the world of craft brew, but given the seemingly unending room for breweries in the US, it’s great to see a film not just celebrate beer lovers, but ask the question: when will this boom inevitably go bust? The film also follows a group of beer lovers attempting to become the beer equivalent of a sommelier, in what promises to be a character driven documentary through the world of my favorite adult beverage.

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Eighth Grade | USA | Bo Burnham

Coming of age stories are to indie films as oxygen is to carbon-based lifeforms. The past decade has been plagued by return to XX’s movies directed by 30 and 40 somethings who paint wistfully magical portraits of the simpler times of their youth. Eighth Grade takes a fresher perspective by exploring how today’s youth grow up in a world of filled with social media, YouTube stars, and cellphone induced early onset neck dysfunction. I’m fascinated by the way young people’s lives are being shaped by a world that is not just socially connected, but demands social connectivity. Bo Burnham’s film promises to be both an introspective dive, as well as a breakout role for young star Elsie Fisher. This is also an A24 venture, who in my opinion is the best indie publisher in the biz.

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First Reformed | USA | Paul Schrader

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a Hawke-ophile. I usually steer clear of dark, gritty dramas at film festivals, because much like comedies, every aspiring director thinks they can do it, but so few can do it well. Not so of writer director Paul Schrader who has penned such deeply dark classics as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Co-staring Amanda Seyfried and a promisingly dark role for Cedric the Entertainer, the A24 seal of quality almost seems superfluous.

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I Am Not A Witch | Zambia | Rungano Nyoni

A dark satire about young womanhood in Nyoni’s home country, this film follows a young girl taken to a “witch camp” after being accused of witchcraft by a local woman. There she is given a choice: remain tethered to a white ribbon and learn to become a witch, or break the ribbon and be transformed into a goat. This films looks to be the kind that is so suffocatingly tense, it’s almost too much to bare, but is so rewarding if you can get through it. Easily one of my most anticipated.

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The Captain | Germany | Robert Schwentke

A hauntingly gorgeous black and white film about a German deserter in WWII who finds an officer’s uniform and stumbles into the role of a Nazi captain. As he keeps up the guise he begins to inhabit the role deeper and deeper, and well, you can see where this is going. It’s interesting to see a German filmmaker making an introspective film about the nature of fascism and how easy it is to fall into the thing you are attempting to flee, even unwittingly. While undoubtedly this will be a tough film to watch, it could easily be the most fascinating.

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Tigers Are Not Afraid | Mexico | Issa Lopez

Described as a spiritual successor to films like The Sixth Sense and Pan’s Labyrinth, this film blends horror — both real and fantastical — with magical fantasy, all while pitting a gang of kids against the real life terror of Mexican drug cartels. Vuelven, the film’s much cooler Spanish title, promises to follow Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro in a trend of superb dark fantasies from our neighbors to the south.

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Films I don’t have tickets to but still look awesome — an incomplete survey.

LIGHTNING ROUND!!!!

  • Dead Pigs | China — A goofball black comedy based on a real life story about a river in China that mysteriously filled up with dead swine.
  • Chedeng & Apple | Phillipines — A Thelma and Louise absurd comedy about an old woman who decides to finally come out as gay and rekindle a relationship with her first love… after cutting off the head of her abusive husband. Hilarity ensues.
  • On Chesil Beach | UK — Saoirse Ronan in a 60s period drama about a couple that gets married before “doing the deed!!!” and get all freaked out about it on their honeymoon.
  • Puzzle | USA — A suburban housewife realizes she’s really good at jigsaw puzzles and goes on the competitive puzzle circuit (I kid you not). SIFF people seem to really be into this, as one of the showings is already sold out and the other is almost sold out. NERDS!!!
  • Disobedience | UK — Rachel Weisz & Racel McAdams struggle with a taboo gay relationship in London’s Orthodox Jewish community. Drama!
  • Godard Mon Amour | France — The director of the The Artist (you remember, that film that won the Oscar for best picture because nothing else came out that year) directs a film about French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard and his muse Anne Wiazemsky. It looks cute and fun.
  • The Children Act | UK — Emma Thompson & Stanley Tucci are really good actors. They probably wouldn’t be in a crappy film. Probably. Also, what’s with all the Ian McEwan adaptations at this festival? Also, who is Ian McEwan? :)
  • Hearts Beat Loud | USA — Ron Swans…err I mean Nick Offerman in a quirky coming of age comedy about a girl who starts a band with her dad. Her dad also owns a record store. Her dad is so cool.
  • Maki’la | Democratic Republic of Congo — It’s a film from the Congo. There aren’t many of those. I’d be seeing this if it didn’t conflict with <REDACTED> Fest.
  • Cuban Food Stories | Cuba — It’s literally all in the title. The trailer makes me hungry.
  • Scotch - A Golden Dream | Taiwan — It’s documentary about Scotch. It looks amazing, and I’d go, but it also conflicts with ★ and ███████ Fest.
  • People’s Republic of Desire | China — A doc about live streaming “idol” stars of China, and how the internet has shaped youth culture in the rapidly evolving Asian superpower. Won the Grand Jury prize at for documentary SXSW.
  • The Bottomless Bag | Russia — Based on the same short story that inspired Kurosawa’s Rashomon. Looks rad.
  • Beast | UK — A creepy crime thriller on a windswept British isle about a handsome, mysterious stranger who is probably also a serial killer. *SCARY MUSIC*
  • Good Manners | Brazil — A pregnant woman is also a werewolf?
  • The Third Murder | Japan — I really enjoyed Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film After the Storm from last year’s SIFF. This film seems far more dramatic and mysterious, but Kore-eda does a masterful job at painting characters, which is exactly what a court-room thriller needs.
  • The African Storm | Benin — I will give you $100 if you can point out this country on a map and your name is not Hal Pratt. Oh you just googled it? Cheater. Seriously though, this has been called the dramatic companion film to Black Panther, about an imaginary African country trying to shake the bonds of colonialism and become independent in a modern world.
  • Naples in Veils | Italy — Described by The Stranger as “Nipples in Veils.” *smirk*

That’s it. Go watch some of these movies. Or go watch any of the movies at SIFF. There are so many movies! Yay movies!

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Might solve a mystery, or rewrite history

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