Seattle’s Egyptian Theater hosts SIFF’s first ever documentary film festival

Sep 30, 2021, 6:04 AM
Egyptian Theater...
Editor Jacqueline Coley (L) and actress Regina Hall speak on stage at the Egyptian Theater on June 2, 2019, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for SIFF)
(Photo by Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for SIFF)

Seattle’s Egyptian Theater finally gets its “A-ha!” moment. Closed for 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Capitol Hill movie house reopens Thursday with a one-night screening of a catchy documentary about the legendary Norwegian pop group A-ha, conveniently called “A-ha: The Movie.”

The screening is part of SIFF’s first ever documentary film festival. Dubbed DocFest, the weeklong festival features 13 separate titles, all of which will play at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian with in-person introductions as well. Eleven of the films will also stream on the SIFF Channel, SIFF’s online streaming portal.

“A-ha: The Movie” is an ideal opening night choice. Given its synth pop subject matter, the film has an undeniably peppy veneer. After all, the band’s first and still biggest hit “Take Me On” is an earworm for all time. (Just try NOT humming that as you leave the theater.) But far from being a one-hit wonder, A-ha and its three members have fashioned a surprising 40-year career. (Who knew? Not me.) And the movie makes good use of that four-decade span to examine the personal and creative tensions that inevitably arise among the three. That tension gives the movie enough depth to prevent it from becoming just a nostalgic wallow.

If the A-ha documentary is perhaps the most enjoyable of the DocFest offerings, the most infuriating is “The Conservation Game.” You’ll never again watch one of those animal segments on late-night or early morning talk shows the same way. The film spotlights a retired cop who’s made it his mission to track down what happens to all those cute tiger, and lion, and leopard cubs who are forced to interact with clueless talk show hosts on a regular basis. Celebrity animal handler Jack Hanna and many others should be ashamed of themselves for their decades-long deception about the fate of these so-called “ambassador animals.” The Columbus Zoo in Ohio deserves special scorn. (Fans of “The Tiger King” might appreciate that the film includes an interview with Carole Baskin and briefly discusses Joe Exotic’s murder case.) A powerful indictment of the exotic animal industry.

Other films in this DocFest I’ve had a chance to preview include a behind-the-scenes sports documentary, an unexpected look at how trees communicate, and a very personal account of the fight over Confederate statues.

“The Squad #notheretodance” profiles one of the most successful women’s professional soccer teams in the world: Olympique Lyonnais. One often hears athletes say it’s the camaraderie that attracts them to sports, even more than the game itself. This movie demonstrates that point, since very little of the footage is on the pitch. A local bonus — a couple of the players featured also play for the OL Reign!

“The Hidden Life of Trees” is basically a come-to-life version of a book of the same name by world-renowned forester Peter Wohlleben. (The movie even zeroes in on the book’s chapter headings before each segment.) Chockful of surprising information about the complexity of trees and forests, it’s also gorgeously shot. “The Hidden Life of Trees” would be a good companion piece to last year’s “Fantastic Fungi.”

“The Neutral Ground” explores the culture war flashpoint of removing Confederate statues in the American South from a deeply personal point of view. The filmmaker is a mixed-race middle school teacher and comedian who does his best to hear out both his aggrieved father and Confederate apologists. As part of his exploration, he takes part in not only a Civil War battlefield reenactment but a slave rebellion reenactment as well.

Other films that were unavailable for previewing but look very promising include “The Rescue,” about the 2018 rescue of a boys’ soccer team trapped in an underground cave in Thailand, and “Flee,” an animated movie about a young Afghan boy who flees to Denmark.

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Seattle’s Egyptian Theater hosts SIFF’s first ever documentary film festival