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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

It’s SpIFF to the rescue

Annual film festival arrives just as Hollywood retreats

Nathan Weinbender Correspondent

For movie fans, February doesn’t promise much: Hollywood studios treat this time of the year as a dumping ground for their worst product, and once the Oscar telecast airs, the multiplexes are mostly wastelands until the summer blockbusters roll in and distract us with explosions and car chases.

But for any cinema buff living in the Inland Northwest, the frigid winter months offer one special treat – the much-anticipated Spokane International Film Festival.

The festival, or SpIFF as it’s known to locals and regulars, is now in its 15th year, and once again festival director Pete Porter and his various programmers and volunteers have assembled an eclectic and thought-provoking selection of movies – 15 features, 14 documentaries, and several collections of live action and animated shorts, hailing from six continents and spanning every style and genre imaginable.

The 10-day festival will hold screenings at both the Bing Crosby and Magic Lantern theaters. Schedules can be viewed and tickets purchased in advance at

Below are brief synopses of a handful of notable SpIFF selections to keep an eye out for in the coming days.

‘Bert Stern: Original Madman’

Although it’s likely you don’t know Bert Stern by name, odds are you are familiar with his work. As a photographer and graphic designer, he was instrumental in developing the unique aesthetics of 1960s advertising, and is probably best known for photographing the icons of the era, including Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe, who modeled for Stern for her final Vogue magazine photo shoot. This documentary, directed by Shannah Laumeister, examines the life, career and influence of a real-life Don Draper. Magic Lantern, 2 p.m. Sunday.

‘Camera Shy’

Part paranoid comedy, part political satire, “Camera Shy” introduces us to a corrupt, philandering city councilman who is disturbed to find that a nosey cameraman is shadowing his every move. But is the photographer real or imaginary? Directed by Mark Sawers, this Canadian film is eligible for the festival’s top award, the Golden SpIFFy for Best Feature. Magic Lantern, 8 p.m. today.

‘Chinese Take-Away’

Roberto is an aging, lonely curmudgeon running a hardware store in Argentina. Aside from his hobbies of collecting news clippings and watching planes land at the airport, his life is dull, until he meets Jun, a mysterious Chinese man who throws a wrench in Roberto’s dull existence. This is a touching cross-cultural drama that won major acclaim from critics in its home country, especially for star, veteran Argentine actor Ricardo Darín. Magic Lantern, 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

‘In the Fog’

From Russian director Sergei Loznitsa, who also made the 2010 import “My Joy,” “In the Fog” tells the harrowing story of a man falsely imprisoned for a train derailment in the German-occupied Soviet Union of 1942. Both a harrowing war allegory and a historical snapshot, Loznitsa’s film is certainly uncompromising, but it’s also a classic tale of violence and morality. Magic Lantern, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

‘The Iran Job’

SpIFF’s opening night selection is a documentary about an American basketball player named Kevin Sheppard, who accepts an offer to play for the A.S. Shiraz team in Iran in 2008. Till Schauder’s film originally premiered in competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and it tracks Sheppard’s career against a backdrop of social unrest in current-day Iran that precedes the Arab Spring. Bing Crosby, 7 p.m. today.

‘Le Tableau’

A César Award-nominated animated film from France, “Le Tableau” (which translates into “The Painting”) is a colorful, vividly-drawn fable about the complex caste system amongst the characters inside a painting. Visually alluring and emotionally complex, and featuring tributes to artists such as Matisse and Picasso, this tale of social division and artistic vision should entrance and engage audiences of all ages. Bing Crosby, Feb. 2, 1 p.m. Saturday.

‘Violeta Went to Heaven’

Violeta Parra was a Chilean folk music icon, active from late 1930s til her death in 1967, and although her music reinvented the genre and her songs have been covered by everyone from Joan Baez to Michael Bublé, she remains relatively unknown in the U.S. Starring Francisca Gavilán as the titular artist, “Violeta Went to Heaven” celebrates Parra’s life and art, and won a Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Magic Lantern, 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

‘War Witch’

In sub-Saharan Africa, a teenage girl named Komona, played by first-time actress Rachel Mwanza, endures the slaughter of her entire village at the hands of a rebel army and is then forced to join their tribe. Filmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “War Witch” (known as “Rebelle” in France) is currently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and Mwanza won Best Actress at the Berlin and Tribeca Film Festivals. Magic Lantern, 6:30 p.m. Feb. 10.