Over the past decade, the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY for short) has showcased hundreds of films directed by young filmmakers (24 and under) that hold their own when compared to what Hollywood is cranking out these days. These films come in from all over the world, and range from animation to documentaries to dramas. This year NFFTY celebrates its 10th anniversary by hosting their biggest program yet with 227 movies from 24 countries and 33 states.
To help you sift out the lineup’s gold nuggets, here’s a guide to some of the best NFFTY 2016 has to offer.
By Joe Sill (age 24), Nick Roney (24), Tye Whipple (24), and Nick Erickson (27)
Kicking off the Opening Night Gala, this mesmerizing film–which plays more like a melodic music video–combines stunning, dream-like images with the classical-infused EDM “Take Flight” by Lindsey Stirling to produce a sensational voyage through time and space. As a girl tries to break free from her urban confines, she embarks on a magical journey up out of the city into the clouds to find natural beauty in the world. Take Flight manages to be both meditative and mind-bending.
By Joe Staehly (22) and Yanni Rozes (22)
Another film to catch on opening night, Looking Down is a heartbreaking short about the consequences of a single decision and the impacts of a broken promise. When Riley decides to not take an internship in Norway to instead stay with her boyfriend, Adam, she believes she is making the right decision. Yet as life goes on, she begins to doubt that fateful decision. With provocative performances—especially from a natural, free-spirited Corrie Legge as young Riley (three actresses portray Riley at different ages)—and a bitter, realistic story, Looking Down is definitely one of NFFTY 2016’s best offerings.
By Jake Oleson (21)
The final film to keep on your radar on opening night, Vitals tells the profound and heart-swelling true tale of Hananel David, a man from Jerusalem who survives a near-fatal stabbing. Told in a hybrid of live action and hand-drawn animation, David becomes a paramedic to not only honor those who saved his life, but to also pay it forward and save others in need.
Screenings: NFTTY 2016 Opening Night, Thur, Apr 28 at 7:30, Cinerama, Sold Out
There Will Be Boats
By Emily K. Beck (24)
Featured as part of NFFTY’s The Human Race documentary series (which highlights some of the most prevalent issues in our world), There Will Be Boats provides equal doses insight and thrilling drama. Setting its eyes on one of the most dangerous migration routes from Turkey to Europe, the film views the plight of Syrian and Kurdish refugees illegally emigrating from the Middle East and Turkey, through the anxious eyes of Norwegian refugee camp volunteers. Whether in the middle of the day or in the dead of night, the volunteers sit, wait, and watch through binoculars as boats carrying men, women and children speed their way across a six-mile-long inlet towards the island of Lesvos. It’s hard to not hold your breath, just like the volunteers, as Turkish police boats circle the refugees. Are the sacrifices made (lives and thousands of Euros spent) worth it when—or even if—they arrive? Films like this make for an excellent starting point for something much more ambitious, as Beck only scratches the surface of this complex and emotional this story (we’d love to see this as a feature length documentary). Educational and exciting, There Will Be Boats should be near the top of your NFFTY list.
By Zinhle Essamuah (20)
Another solidly crafted documentary from The Human Race, Hands Up takes a hard look at the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement through the lens of a young black girl. Collage student journalist and filmmaker Zinhle Essamuah travels to Ferguson to experience the city and speak to the people. With her framing, Essamuah portrays Ferguson as both a birthplace for our current discussions on race relations and also a microcosm for what America has become due to muddy media representations of the issues taking place. Like a good journalist, Essamuah highlights the recent events that have divided our country and brings up more talking points instead of just pointing blame at one side or the other.
Screenings: The Human Race, Sat, Apr 30 at 5, SIFF Cinema Uptown, $12
The Secret Life of a Gum Wall
By Celia Jensen (9)
As part of the locally focused Northwest is Best series, The Secret Life of a Gum Wall is a cute love-letter to one of Seattle’s most popular (and certainly smelliest) attractions. Jensen films tourists and natives alike as they come and contribute to the “interactive” landmark. But as many of us Seattleites know, Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority cleaned the gum off of the wall in 2015. Jensen was there to film the power washers chipping away at the two-decades-old gum in a weirdly somber moment. But, like the mighty phoenix, the gum wall soon rose again as citizens and travelers gathered to help restore that alleyway with the omnipresent, palpable smell to its former glory.
Screening: Sun, May 1 at 1, SIFF Cinema Uptown, $12
Rwanda and Juliet
By Ben Proudfoot (23)
Holding the distinction of being the only feature film in this year’s festival, Rwanda and Juliet explores history, genocide, reconciliation… and Shakespeare. The documentary focuses on Professor Emeritus of Education at Dartmouth College Andrew Garrod’s 2013 trip to Rwanda. The narrative follows the odd, eccentric old man’s hopes to spread the word of Shakespeare while also creating a sense of unity among a people who endured the Rwandan genocide.
Touching down in Rwanda, Garrod aims to stage a production of Romeo and Juliet with young Rwandans as the stars. In order to draw obvious parallels, he splits the cast’s Hutus and Tutsis into the Capulets and Montagues. From the planning stages to opening night, Ben Proudfoot tries to encompass four-plus weeks of time into a 90-minute film, but misses out on opportunities to get more first-hand accounts of the Rwandans who actually witnessed the atrocities.
As production gets underway, conflicts among the actors arise as issues of money and time begin to weigh on the team. Proudfoot becomes more interested in everything wrong with the production instead of focusing on the lives of the Rwandans. The Rwandans soon grow frustrated which then raises some big questions on whether or not this sort of situation is even appropriate, as one of the Rwandans reveals that white people show up all the time assuming help is needed.
As opening night barrels towards him, Garrod’s once calm demeanor turns into a tyrannical and unpleasant rage. He continually and irrationally seems unimpressed by the lack of professional behavior from a group of amateur actors taking commands from a white guy who can’t afford to pay his cast. This again raises questions on Garrod’s privilege and right to go to Rwanda to perform such a feat, especially when considering his motivation to act as a unifier of the Hutus and Tutsis in the area when he casts the parts specifically to represent the divide of the two peoples.
Nonetheless, the devastating memories shared by the young Rwandans are enough to make up for any lack of compassion from Garrod. Opening up about a fair amount of tragic scars, the Rwandans seem optimistic about their future, even while many still recover from the trauma endured two decades earlier.
Hopeful and powerful, reflective and forgiving, Rwanda and Juliet is an admirably made documentary that might take a few dark turns due to its main participant (who we eventually learn helps pay for some of the actors’ tuitions) but it ultimately reminds audiences that even after the darkest of times, there will always be light.
Screening: Sun, May 1 at 3, SIFF Cinema Uptown, $12
Apr 28–May 1, Various venues, $12–$40; Festival pass $25–$2,500