There's much more to a film festival than the screening of a number of films. That's part of it, of course. But it's the added value features -- aimed at those for whom film is much more than merely a great way to blow off a couple of hours -- that make a film festival such a captivating cinematic experience. Typically a concerted effort is made to broaden audience horizons and, if possible, blow minds. Guest speakers can be a great addition as well. A question-and-answer session with a film director, for instance, or a hellish production tale related by one of the film's stars add a dimension to film appreciation that is unattainable anywhere else. With the Spokane International Film Festival, organizer and film critic Robert Glatzer has gone that extra mile to give you much more for your festival ticket dollar than merely the admission to a film viewing -- bonus "special features" that add an extra dimension to the films. Best of all, you get the whole package for the same green you'd pay to sit through Garfield.
Starting today, Feb. 3 and running through Feb. 10, Glatzer and the Contemporary Arts Alliance will present the seventh annual Spokane International Film Festival. All of the festival films will be screened at the AMC Theaters in downtown's River Park Square. Some of the filmmakers will be also in attendance to answer questions and talk about their work.
This year, Glatzer has brought together 15 films from around the globe, gleaned from a massive list of dramas, comedies, thrillers and documentaries currently on the international festival circuit. He's mixed it up, with films that vary greatly in theme and tone. It's a tough (some might say enviable) assignment, but one Glatzer seems to relish.
"The festival board sends me to festivals during the year," he says. "And then I travel a lot, too, so I get to see a very good and big sampling of the festival films each year."
What are the criteria? What's Glatzer looking for when making a selection for the festival?
"The first thing I do is try to get a feel for what's on the festival circuit -- Cannes, Venice, Toronto, whatever," he says. "Then I make first lists of what I want from the variety I can get, and then I pare that down. Sometimes I don't get the films I want, for a number of reasons. If that happens with a particular film, I go to the next one."
Glatzer likes to challenge his festival audiences. He says he gives virtually no consideration during the selection process to Spokane's prevailing film tastes, which tend to run a tad conservative.
"Maybe in the back of my brain," he says with a smile, "but not knowingly. For instance, one of the films this year, Antares, is a very explicitly sexual film. All I've done to be careful is to announce that fact."
Other films in the festival this year include Hari Om, a delightful Indian film featuring beautiful cinematography of the Indian countryside; the American-made David Hockney: The Colors of Music, a revealing documentary about the artist's career as a theatrical set designer; Green Hat, a Chinese crime drama that has less to do with crime than with relationships; Angel on the Right, a dry comedy from none other than Tajikistan; Vibrator, a Japanese road movie of sorts; Captive, a political thriller from Argentina; Arahan, a light-hearted offering from South Korea; and On the Sunny Side, another upbeat film from Slovenia.
Glatzer is paying special attention this year to German director Tom Tykwer, and he's screening three of his films: The Princess and the Warrior, Run Lola Run and Heaven starring Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi. Heaven was written by award-winning Polish director Kryszof Kieslowski (Blue, White, Red), who passed away before he could begin shooting what would have been the opening film of his new trilogy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. Tykwer took over as director and made the film in Kieslowski's honor.
"Heaven is an amazing film," says Glatzer. "It was actually released in this country in 2002 and died right away. It never got any kind of notice. Many critics didn't like it. But some critics loved it, as I do. And it's finally starting to get its due. Its reputation has grown, and it is now being recognized for its genius."
Another film in the festival is Nobody Knows, a Japanese drama about physical and emotional survival among a group of siblings. The film's 12-year-old lead won the best actor award last spring at Cannes.
Several of the films to be screened -- Hari Om, Green Hat, Antares, Nobody Knows, Arahan and On the Sunny Side -- will be making their American debut in Spokane. This year's classic film selection will be the 1934 Dashiell Hammett-written crime romance, The Thin Man, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.
Of special note is Heir to an Execution, a gripping documentary portrait of the children and grandchildren of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the American couple who were executed in 1953 as Communist spies. Director Ivy Meeropol (one of the Rosenberg grandchildren) takes viewers back to the years of the Cold War and to the families torn apart by an overzealous judiciary during the Red Scare. The screening will be introduced by 88-year-old Morton Sorbell -- who was, half a century ago, one of the co-defendants in the Rosenberg case.
"He was also convicted of spying but was not sentenced to death as the Rosenbergs were," explains Glatzer. "Instead he was sentenced to 30 years and served 16 years at Alcatraz -- and survived."