For movie buffs living in Spokane, every year begins and ends the same way. All through December and into the first couple weeks of January, good movies come to town thick and fast, and local theaters experience an overload of prestige pictures, holiday blockbusters and films with award buzz. Trying to check off all the titles on those to-see lists almost becomes a nightmare.
When the Academy Award nominations are announced, people rush to watch all of the Oscar contenders before the ceremony. Then the deafening silence: January and February are dumping grounds for Hollywood’s most forgettable products, and there’s usually nothing worth seeing until the spring or summer.
It’s a good thing, then, that the Spokane International Film Festival is here to cure the winter movie blahs. Now in its 16th year, SpIFF is one of the region’s most reliable cultural institutions, and its colorful collection of foreign films, animation and documentaries serves as a refreshing antidote to the exhaustive machine that is Hollywood.
This year’s schedule is as diverse as ever – comedies, dramas, thrillers, sci-fi and several collections of short films – and although we’re just barely scratching the surface, here are some of the program highlights.
• “The Broken Circle Breakdown” – An Oscar nominee for best foreign film, this Belgian melodrama focuses on a relationship stretched to its limits. Director Felix Van Groeningen, adapting a stage play by Johan Heldenbergh, hops around in time as he examines the highs and lows experienced by Didier, a bluegrass musician, and his wife, Elise, a tattoo artist, as their daughter undergoes chemotherapy. The film uses music to define and augment its characters, and critics have thrown around comparisons to everything from “Walk the Line” to “Once.” Jan. 24 at 8 p.m., Bing Crosby Theater.
• “Child’s Pose” – Winner of the Golden Bear, the most prestigious prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Romanian drama “Child’s Pose” is a sobering look at the lengths a desperate mother will go to defend and protect her child. Luminita Gheorghiu, in an acclaimed performance, plays an affluent woman who uses her wealth and social connections to bail her 30-something son out of manslaughter charges after he kills a young boy in a car accident. Jan. 28 at 6:30 p.m., Magic Lantern Theater.
• “In Bloom” – In 1992, the country of Georgia was embroiled in a civil war following its independence from Soviet rule. “In Bloom” is an adolescent story set amid that tumult and follows the friendship of two 14-year-old girls – one from a working-class family ruled by a drunken patriarch, the other a product of a single-parent household. Their lives are seemingly normal despite their chaotic surroundings, but the unexpected appearance of a handgun, given to one of the girls as a strange romantic gesture, threatens to tear them apart. Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m., Magic Lantern Theater.
• “The Missing Picture” – Both a personal odyssey and a historical snapshot, the mixed-media documentary “The Missing Picture” finds director Rithy Panh looking back at the Khmer Rouge’s stranglehold on Cambodia. Since most film footage from the era is government-funded propaganda, Panh uses dioramas and clay figures to re-enact scenes from his childhood, including the years he spent working in a Khmer Rouge internment camp. The movie won the Un Certain Regard award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it’s also an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film. Jan. 31 at 8 p.m., Bing Crosby Theater.
• “On the Job” – Some of the best, grittiest thrillers of recent years have been exports from Hong Kong and South Korea, but “On the Job,” a violent Filipino crime saga, gives those films a run for their money. With hints of John Woo and Martin Scorsese, the story divides its time between characters on both sides of the law: We see the exploits of two incarcerated criminals working as hired assassins, while simultaneously following the police officers on their trail. Jan. 27 at 6:45 p.m. and Feb. 1 at noon, Magic Lantern Theater.
• “The Rocket” – This year’s opening night selection is a coming-of-age tale set in the jungles of Laos, where the people of a small village are being relocated to make way for the building of a dam. Our protagonist is a young boy named Ahlo, who was deemed cursed since birth and does, in fact, leave a series of unlucky accidents in his wake. Peppered with colorful supporting characters, including a James Brown obsessive sporting a bright purple coat, “The Rocket” recalls the fantastical, wide-eyed appeal of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Jan. 23 at 7 p.m., AMC River Park Square 20.