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Seattle International Film Festival, 3 (the winner)

In addition to an outstanding film festival, Seattle offers a very cool museum combining two of the obsessions of its founder, local Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen: science fiction and rock and roll. I visited the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum (EMP/SFM) with YH and fellow FIPRESCI juror, stalwart Gideon Kouts of Paris. A big draw was the Avatar exhibit, which featured an opportunity to be filmed in 3D enacting a scene from the movie. Only Gideon had the gumption to try it out - the man is fearless - and the result can be seen here.


While Gideon was taking on the actually filmmaking process (which involved him taking off his jacket), I stood back and mused on the meaning of it all. In short, the theme of human beings versus nature that James Cameron's extravaganza dramatized, not to mention Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life. Two of the films in the New American Cinema competition that we were judging also dealt with similar issues, including Andrew Okpeaha MacLean's "On the Ice,"  which won the prize, and Christopher Munch's "Letters From the Big Man," for which I had a stronger attachment than my colleagues. Anyway, I ended up jotting down my reflections, a longer version of which appears on the FIPRESCI website.


On the Ice is set in the frozen flatlands of north of Barrow, Alaska,

 

and in many striking shots the human figure is shown almost lost in the endless whiteness. It's an inhuman crucible in which the inner beasts of the Inuit characters emerge and act out a tragedy as ancient as the Book of Genesis.

Big Man takes place in a vast natural expanse as well, the endangered forests of the Pacific Northwest, only it's green instead of white.


But there, too, the human characters lose their ties with a constraining civilization and come face to face with another beast,  this one non-human but perhaps not so malignant as the all-too-human versions in On the Ice. Not to put too fine a point on it, I'm referring to Bigfoot.

 

Mention Bigfoot when describing a movie and people might dismiss it as kitsch or comedy. As the title suggests, Letters from the Big Man features an appearance (or is it?) of the great, hairy, cryptozoic biped, and as such teeters on the verge of unintentional slapstick. It also edges dangerously close to New Age flakiness, but in the end the film achieves a balance between corny naiveté and touching profundity.

The film is like a happy version of Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man - Sasquatch Woman? - and the Big Man is a portlier, more gray than blue version of the noble Ná vi of Avatar. Both James Cameron and Munch seem to be pushing similar back-to-nature message, but when the Big Man finally "speaks," his "seeing with the heart" refrain doesn't seem as false and cloying as the same moral when hammered home by a multi-billion dollar grossing 3D epic. I guess a plug for nature is more convincing when you show the real thing instead of a CGI simulation.


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