SpIFF, now in its 14th year, has flourished since its inception, growing from a handful of screenings at the old Met Theater to an 11-day event that involves the Magic Lantern, AMC, Bing Crosby and Garland theaters. This year, festival entries have been divided into categories the programmers call Sidebars, which designate the theme and tone of each film.
So if you’re not in the mood for melodramatic art-house fare, try something from the Lighter Side, such as the Belgian comic fantasy “The Fairy,” or the quirky Israeli satire “Man Without a Cell Phone.”
Interested in films concerning the environment? Check out an entry in the Green category – such as the documentary “Waking the Green Tiger,” which looks at the consequences of building a dam on China’s Yangtze river, or the Northwest premiere of “Surviving Progress,” an examination of cyclical nature of human existence.
The remaining sidebars are Family Drama, Characters to Remember, and Arts and Culture.
With a program that boasts 20 narrative features, 17 documentaries, and four programs comprised of short films from around the world, there is an especially wide variety of films to choose from.
Below are some highlights from this year’s line up; the complete schedule is available at spokanefilmfestival.org.
This year’s opening night selection is a dark comedy about a Christian housewife (comedienne Rachel Harris) who discovers her dying husband has fathered an illegitimate child. She decides to track down his offspring, who turns out to be a troubled young man with an arrest warrant and a drug habit. Writer-director Robbie Pickering’s debut feature won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Award at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Pickering is scheduled to attend the screening.
AMC, 7 p.m. Thursday.
Arguably the biggest story to come out of this year’s festival is the participation of actor Matthew Modine, who starred in 1985’s shot-in-Spokane sports film “Vision Quest.” Modine plays a high school wrestler who puts his own health at risk by attempting to drop weight classes, all the while falling for an older aspiring artist (Linda Fiorentino) living as a boarder in his father’s house. Modine will not only appear at the “Vision Quest” screening, but the night prior he will screen his own short film “Jesus Was a Commie,” followed by a conversation with local author Jess Walter.
An Evening with Matthew Modine – Bing Crosby Theater, 7 p.m. Friday.
“Vision Quest” - Garland Theater, 7 p.m. Saturday; special price $3.50, available at the door.
A quirky comic fantasy from Switzerland centers on a misanthropist named Benno, who wakes up one morning to discover he is leaking sand. Totally baffled, Benno seeks help from Sandra, the girl who works in a downstairs coffee shop. As the sand accumulates more and more rapidly, Benno begins to wonder if his romantic dreams involving Sandra are somehow connected to his strange condition.
Bing Crosby Theater, 9 p.m. Friday.
‘The Mill and the Cross’
“The Mill and the Cross” is Polish filmmaker Lech Majewski’s inventive exploration of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1564 painting “The Way to Cavalry,” literally taking us inside the work and following some of the characters depicted within. The cast includes Charlotte Rampling as the Virgin Mary, Michael York as art collector Nicholas Jonghelinck, and Rutger Hauer as Bruegel himself. The movie has found much critical acclaim, particularly from Roger Ebert, who called it “a film of great beauty and attention.”
Magic Lantern, 2 p.m. Jan. 28.
‘Crime After Crime’
An official selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, this documentary chronicles the injustice faced by Debbie Peagler, a black woman imprisoned for killing the man who forced her into prostitution and physically abused her. Nearly three decades later, Peagler is still behind bars, and two novice attorneys decide to make it their duty to clear her name.
Magic Lantern, 11:30 a.m. Jan. 29.
Winner for best film at the British Independent Film Awards, actor Paddy Considine’s debut film as a director stars Peter Mullan as an emotionally damaged widower with a drinking problem. At his lowest, he meets a sympathetic woman, played by the acclaimed Olivia Colman, who works in a thrift store, and she attempts to heal him with her unwavering religious faith.
Magic Lantern, 2 p.m. Jan. 29.
‘Position Among the Stars’
This is the third documentary by director Leonard Retel Helmrich to follow the Sjamsuddin family of Indonesia, after “Eye of the Day” and “Shape of the Moon.” “Position Among the Stars” considers the impact of globalization on the city of Jakarta, and how changes in culture and tradition cause rifts between a poor grandmother, her working-class sons, and her teenage granddaughter.
Magic Lantern, 6:45 p.m. Jan. 30.
‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’
From Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, this strange, lushly photographed, and deliberately paced police procedural follows a group of men – including a detective, a prosecutor, and a couple of hapless killers – as they attempt to find a body hidden somewhere in the Anatolian steppes. The film is Turkey’s official selection for the 2012 Best Foreign Film Oscar and won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
Magic Lantern, 6:30 p.m. Feb. 1.
Vladimir and Elena are a middle-age couple who married late in life – he’s a businessman, she’s a submissive housewife. After Vladimir suffers a heart attack, he determines that his daughter from a previous marriage will inherit his entire estate. Elena, whose wish to help her son financially is no longer a reality, decides to take matters into her own hands. This Russian drama won the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes.
Magic Lantern, 11: 30 a.m. Feb. 4.
‘You’ve Been Trumped’
When Donald Trump decides to build a golf resort in Scotland, both a pristine coastline and its nearby residents are negatively affected by the construction. Anthony Baxter’s documentary examines the greedy nature of big business, as well as Scottish environmental laws, and has won numerous festival awards, including the Special Jury Prize at Michael Moore’s Traverse City (Michigan) Film Festival.
AMC, 8 p.m. Feb. 4.