• You can travel the world through cinema. Entries this year come from Germany, Japan, Uzbekistan, China, Denmark, Norway, Israel, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, France, Australia and other far-flung places. The SpIFF slogan: “See What the World is Watching.”
• You can listen to the directors themselves discuss their movies. This year, the list is especially long, including Geefwee Boedoe (“Let’s Pollute”), J.P. Sniadecki (“Foreign Parts”), Eli Craig (“Tucker & Dale vs. Evil”), Amanda Pope (“The Desert of Forbidden Art”), Nora Bateson (“An Ecology of Mind”), Sara McIntyre (“Two Indians Talking”) and Michael W. King (“The Rescuers”).
And here’s a more practical reason:
• You can get a leg up on the office Oscar pool. You can check out three of the five Oscar nominees for Best Short Film (Animated), beginning with “Let’s Pollute,” which will be screened at the opening-night event tonight at the River Park Square AMC.
A second nominee, “The Lost Thing” will be shown on Feb. 12 at the AMC. A third, “Madagascar, A Journey Diary,” will be part of the Animation Showcase on Saturday at the AMC and Sunday at the Magic Lantern.
Then, you can see the astonishingly good Oscar nominee for Best Documentary, “Waste Land” (more on that below).
The festival also includes a Cannes best screenplay winner (“Poetry”) and an Audience Award winner (“Kinshasa Symphony”) from the Vancouver International Film Festival, among many others.
SpIFF is an embarrassment of riches for film buffs, with 44 screenings, many of which include multiple films.
If you really want the full-immersion method, you can attend everything (although festival passes are not available this year). Otherwise, you can pick and choose. One reasonable option this year, from the available evidence, might be to check out the documentaries.
I was able to watch advance screeners of three of them – “The Rescuers, “Kings of Pastry” and “Waste Land” – and all are astonishing in different ways:
• “The Rescuers” (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., AMC and Sunday, 7 p.m., Magic Lantern) – This powerful documentary by Michael W. King follows the British historian Martin Gilbert as he travels Europe researching a little-known Holocaust story, about the many European diplomats who helped Jews escape from the Nazis.
What gives this film an extra layer of meaning is that it also follows a young Rwandan anti-genocide activist who accompanies Gilbert in an effort to gain historical perspective on the horrific events in her own country. King will attend the Saturday screening.
• “Kings of Pastry” (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. and Feb. 11, 5 p.m., Magic Lantern) – The latest from famed documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker is a thoroughly entertaining and surprisingly engrossing film about French pastry chefs who are vying to earn their profession’s highest medal in a grueling, three-day event in Lyons.
Think of it like the Olympics; these chefs train for four years, and their dreams can be realized – or dashed – with one mistake during the competition. Plan on going straight from this screening to a good bakery.
• “Waste Land” (Feb. 13, 11:30 a.m., Magic Lantern) – This remarkable, multi-layered documentary is about Brazilian artist Vik Muniz and his project to make art utilizing the objects at the world’s largest landfill outside of Rio de Janeiro– as well as the trash-pickers themselves.
It is filled with insights and provocative questions about poverty, human dignity, the value of work (even work the world deems demeaning) and the nature of art itself. I’ll certainly be picking it in the Oscar pool for Best Documentary.
The above only touches the surface of SpIFF. Check out the full schedule on www.spokanefilmfestival.org/.
Tonight’s opening program, “My Words, My Lies … My Love” and “Let’s Pollute,” 7 p.m. at AMC, will be followed by an opening-night party right after the show gets out.