Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before the Sun
Canada, 2023, 89 min., Dir. Banchi Hanuse
There are many sports documentaries in the world, but few are as patient and focused as this one from director Banchi Hanuse about the thrilling and terrifying world of bareback relay horse racing. Rider Logan Red Crow is a young Siksika woman who is training after recently taking a major fall that still could have been much worse as we are shown in clips of the serious accidents that happen as competitors leap from horse to horse. While those tense moments remain an integral part of the documentary, what makes Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi a cut above is everything that takes place between the races. We get to see Red Crow’s day-to-day life, from waking up at the crack of dawn to the intense training she goes through to get ready—the film expands into a gentle slice-of-life documentary that isn’t afraid to slow down and reflect on questions beyond the sport.
See it at Northwest Film Forum Sunday, September 17 at 8 pm and online September 15-24.
United States, 2023, 68 min., Dir. Jacob Jones & Curran Foster
No film festival would be complete without a silly entry that, while rough around the edges, makes the most of its more scrappy sensibility. Building off the works of T.S. Eliot and Andrew Lloyd Webber, CATS TWO is an unauthorized musical that feels like a fever dream (complimentary). Local directors Jacob Jones and Curran Foster make use of plenty of puppetry and absurd animation, and the jokes are not solely tied to their source material—that’s merely one jumping-off point. There’s everything from a feline interpretation of Eadweard Muybridge’s iconic series of photos known as the Horse in Motion to a cartoon cat “painting ” a notable photograph on screen for us. It all makes for what feels most like a stream-of-consciousness spoof where each new sequence brings with it a variety of artistic styles and techniques strung together by live-action interludes. While it is very dependent on the individual whether or not one should partake in some substances prior to any of this year’s Local Sightings programming, CATS TWO would probably be the best entry to pair them with. Some of the cat puppets might then live in your nightmares forever, but that’s cinema, baby.
See it at Northwest Film Forum Saturday, September 16 at 5 pm and online September 15-24.
Canada, 2022, 90 min., Dir. Nisha Platzer
An emotionally shattering and formally bold documentary that immerses us in the fragments of memory more than any conventionally made film could dream of, Nisha Platzer’s back home is the pinnacle of how cinema can become a boundless act of remembrance. In this case, it is Platzer seeking to remember her brother Josh, who took his own life when she was just 11. Two decades later, she crafted this expansive yet intimate film over the course of five years. Through raw conversations with those who knew and loved him, 16 mm, and Super8 film, Platzer undertakes a poetic pilgrimage back through time, which we see play out in the present, where the loss still lingers as it always and forever will. Each striking shot and delicate cut paints a loving portrait of someone who has since departed, though now lives on in this grand act of grieving. Without shying away from all the immense pain on display, as we hear each voice reflect on Josh, his life, and his death, Platzer is able to gradually excavate a profoundly honest path towards healing. It is a film that reaches parts of our minds that we never thought to look into, drawing us deeper into ourselves and our relationship with each other in a radical act of intense empathy.
See it at Northwest Film Forum Sunday, September 24 at 4:30 pm. Online screenings are not available.
Even Hell Has Its Heroes
United States, 2022, USA, 109 min., Dir. Clyde Petersen
A comprehensive look at the history and legacy of the metal band Earth, Even Hell Has Its Heroes is a true achievement of a documentary in every sense as its sonic resonance echoes just as the group’s meditative music does decades later. Entertaining as all hell, whether you’ve followed Earth for years or have yet to be graced by their music, Even Hell is the absolute best film of this year’s festival, and it carves out an irreplaceable place in Washington cinema history. More than a recounting of the group’s origins, the film eschews typical documentary conventions, with its overreliance on talking heads, by interweaving interviews with the footage itself. It is a work befitting the grandiosity of Earth’s creations that takes us fully into the minds of those behind it and illuminates how they left their mark on a genre that will forever owe them a musical debt. There is a darkness, but an earned vibrancy emerges as well.
See it at Northwest Film Forum Saturday, September 16 at 6:30 and online September 15-24 (only available to WA State residents).
Canada, 2023, 97 min., Dir. Bijan Karim
There are many challenging films in this year’s Local Sightings lineup, but Makyo might be the toughest cinematic pill to swallow. It is still worth experiencing. Directed by Bijan Karim, who wrote the film with lead actor Alden Doyle, Makyo takes us into the life of Abner (Doyle), who has grown disillusioned with and disconnected from the world around him. This can calcify into coldness, like when he tells his girlfriend that speaking aloud about the beauty of nature compromises it, but the film increasingly hits home. As we accompany Abner through every step of his growing uncertainty and attempts to sort through the life he has been living, the film then settles into an almost melancholic malaise. This is all by design, as it deconstructs the painfully relatable and authentic ways we try to make sense of the dread that can be found in everyday existence and threatens to consume us at every turn. For all the ways the film holds us at a distance, both in how it is shot and its thematic interests, it still creates an evocative exploration of a search for salvation where there may be none to be found.
See it at Northwest Film Forum Saturday, September 23 at 4:30 pm and online September 15-24.