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‘Revolution’ promises to get 12th SpIFF off to a powerful start

The phrase “world-class” aptly describes the Spokane International Film Festival – but don’t get the idea that this means the world’s paparazzi will descend, Cannes-style.

It means this ambitious, 11-day festival features the Oscar candidates for Best Foreign Language Film from five different countries: the United Kingdom, Israel, Korea, Denmark and Georgia.

Fifteen other countries also are represented. In all, the festival will show 26 feature films and 26 shorts.

Tonight’s big opening film, “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” is as American as apple pie – or as “We Shall Overcome.”

This documentary – one of four films we had the chance to screen in advance – is a powerful recounting of the 1960s civil rights movement. The story is told through the movement’s music, a remarkably effective narrative concept given that the songs were so interwoven throughout: “This Little Light of Mine,” “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.”

You’ll see interviews with Andrew Young and Harry Belafonte, and stunning news footage from Mississippi and Alabama.

You’ll also hear new versions of these songs performed by contemporary musicians including The Roots, Wyclef Jean, John Legend, Richie Havens and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

By the end, you’ll understand how the movement changed the world – and you may be dabbing the tears from your eyes.

It screens tonight at 7 at River Park Square’s AMC Theatres, followed by an opening night party. (Even the animated short that opens tonight’s program, Kyle Bell’s “The Mouse That Soared,” promises to be one of the festival highlights.)

And these are only the first of 52 films – full-length comedies and dramas, documentaries and shorts. This is shaping up to be, without question, one of the most ambitious and wide-ranging festivals in SpIFF’s 12-year history.

“I think it’s the biggest and best festival we’ve ever had,” said Pete Porter, the festival director. “But I’ll let the public decide that.”

Here are some of the other films we had a chance to preview:

• “Dive!” – An earnestly good-natured documentary by L.A.’s Jeremy Seifert about the joys of dumpster-diving for food.

The biggest surprise: The movie will actually make you hungry. The entire point is that this is perfectly good food, dumped by groceries, often before its expiration date. Seifert’s message is that too much food is shamefully going to waste.

Screens on Saturday, noon, at the Magic Lantern Theatre, along with “Pups” (the world premiere documentary by Denise Bennett about Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep football team) and “The Spam Job.” Seifert and Bennett will take part in the Filmmakers Forum that follows at 2 p.m.

• “Mid-August Lunch” – An amiable Italian comedy about a middle-aged man who has to share his apartment with his aging mother and two other elderly ladies, by writer-director Gianni Di Gregorio.

Screens Saturday, 2:30 p.m. at AMC.

• “Wah Do Dem (What They Do)” – Brooklyn indie-kid Max (Sean Bones) wins a cruise to Jamaica and gets robbed of all his possessions on a beach. He wanders the backroads barefoot and finds the true Jamaican spirit that the other cruise passengers can only imagine. It’s an engaging and compelling picaresque journey, with a cameo by singer Norah Jones.

Screens Feb. 6, 8:30 p.m. at AMC. Bones will attend, along with directors Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner. They will also attend the second Filmmakers Forum, Feb. 7, 2 p.m., at the Magic Lantern.

And that’s just a taste. You can also catch the acclaimed documentary about ballet in Paris, “La Danse: Le Ballet de l’Opera de Paris”; a documentary about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in Antarctica, “At the Edge of World”; or, just to pick a random title, “Gigante,” an Uruguayan “stalker movie with a sweet soul.”

Now, that’s some world-class cinematic variety.

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