Best of 2019 Seattle Intl. and AFI Docs Film Festivals

Another Day of Life (courtesy Cannes Film Festival)

Every year, two film festivals usher us into summer with exceptional programming, most particularly in the realm of international documentary production. The Seattle International Film Festival, the largest in the US, and AFI Docs, in our nation’s capital, both exhibited three noteworthy releases this year.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld, dir. Mads Brügger (Denmark)

Journalist and filmmaker Brügger leads us on his powerful personal investigation into the plane crash in the Congo in 1961 of United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld. The director’s convoluted path eventually yields undeniable and startling results: With the help of a National Security Agency employee and members of a secret South African paramilitary organization, we learn Hammarsköjld’s plane was shot down, due to his siding with freedom fighters in the Congo and against the huge European mining interests that benefited from the country’s colonization.

Human Nature, dir. Adam Bolt (USA)

Bolt’s doc is much more than the scientific background and explanation of the gene editing process discovered in 2013 known by the acronym CRISPR. He has assembled some of the most renowned biologists, ethicists, lawyers, and chemists to weigh in on not only the advantages of correcting the likelihood of diseases in families, but also the dangers of genetically meddling with the so-called germ line, possibly creating bio-evolutionary disasters that cannot scientifically be corrected.

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins, dir. Janice Engel (USA)

“Good thing we’ve still got politics in Texas,” muckraking journalist Ivins once said. “Finest form of free entertainment ever invented.” Engel not only displays the incomparable, dry wit of Ivins but moves us with the deeper tale of her alcoholism and isolation, as she took on the politically powerful, in her home state, at the New York Times and in her books.

In addition, Seattle boasted a couple other standouts in its impressive roster, feature films that expanded the range of their genre.

Another Day of Life, dirs. Raul de la Fuente and Damian Nenow (Spain/Poland/Belgium/Germany Hungary)

The most conceptually innovative film of the season is the animated biographical drama Another Day of Life, using rotoscoping to honor the memoir and bravery of Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński. His commitment to honestly cover the war in 1970s Angola, despite the inevitable criticism of the CIA and Portugal, is buttressed with startlingly poetic imagery.

The Invisible Witness, dir. Stefano Mordini (Italy)

This cinematic puzzle brings a wonderfully glossy sheen to its complex storytelling and editing, and it matches up with the finest US studio thrillers. An Italian CEO tells the defense attorney helping defend him regarding the murder of his mistress a tale that we see in flashback fragments. The attorney continually presents him facts that alter his tale, and chances for freedom. Mordini has constructed a tense brain teaser of a film that earns fully its astonishing twist ending.

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