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An evening with Charlize and Stuart

There are some swell perks to Michael’s job at IMDb, and but one of them is an inexhaustible supply of all things movie-related: tickets, DVDs, merchandising, what have you. And while we rarely take advantage of the offerings, this year we decided to shoehorn our butts off the couch, wrangle some babysitters and attend the opening-night gala of the Seattle International Film Festival.

There were movie stars! Media barricades! A sweeping climb of red carpet! After-party tents! But best of all, there was the international premiere of a film we were really looking forward to seeing, Stuart Townsend’s “Battle in Seattle.”

Townsend had spent six years in the writing and making of the film, including extensive location shoots downtown, and had worked with a number of activists involved in the 1999 WTO protests to get a feel for their deeply-held motivations and ensure historical accuracy. “Battle in Seattle” is Townsend’s directorial debut, and I imagine it must’ve taken a sack of steel to premiere it before 3,000 people who lived it; he called the magnificent new McCaw Hall “the largest film venue (he’d) ever stood in” with both nervousness and pride, and the house lights went up for him over peaceful protesters, anarchists, cops, attorneys, the mayor, and everyday Seattleites who’d been caught up in those five remarkable days, each with their own memories and interpretations of them. Talk about a tough crowd.

The word “docudrama” is used liberally in film circles, but “Battle in Seattle” is more than just a fictionalized depiction of real events; it seamlessly weaves graphics, statistics and historical footage of the WTO protests with fictional characters and plotlines, making it more of a “dramatized documentary.” It’s a powerful device, one reinforced by nearly indistinguishable 1999 footage and mammoth-scale location shoots, as well as the film’s layered and rich script and performances.

I’ll let Michael offer his own review, but I think our critical differences are based in the fact that he was working downtown during the protests, while I was in Salt Lake, glued to CNN and images of the smoke-filled, smashed-glass, National Guard patrolled city I’d soon be moving to. In short, as a concerned outsider, but an outsider all the same.

And “Battle in Seattle” gave me multiple chills, made me cry, and — for the first time in at least six years, and leave it to an Irishman to accomplish it — made me proud of being an American.

It also earned Townsend and his cast a huge Seattle standing ovation. And wails of laughter when, toward film’s end, Martin Henderson’s character has this exchange with Andre Benjamin’s:

Martin: “Well, everyone in the world knows what the WTO is now.”
Andre (smirking): “No they don’t.” (Both men laugh.) “But at least they know it’s SOMETHING BAD…”

(And yes, Charlize IS just as willowy and gorgeous and unpretentious as you thought, even in FLATS.)

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