Image for the 50th Seattle International Film Festival featuring We Strangers, Thelma, and Agents of Happiness | Agents of Fandom

5 “Can’t Miss” Movies Out of SIFF 2024

While the Seattle International Film Festival features several heavy hitters, here are some lesser-known films to keep an eye on.

The Seattle International Film Festival takes place every May and features some of the biggest titles on the film festival circuit. This year is no different! With over 140 titles showing at the festival ranging from documentaries to genre-bending horror to global cinema, SIFF, which began in May of 1976, has no shortage of movies to check out.

On top of that, some lesser-known films warrant attention and are likely to be among some of the best out of the festival. Here are 5 movies out of SIFF that you need to see as soon as you get the chance.

‘Thelma’ — Directed by Josh Margolin

Thelma (June Squibb, left) points to a computer screen as Daniel (Fred Hechinger, right) tries to help her figure something out I Agents of Fandom
Thelma asking Daniel for help working her computer plays to great hilarity in Thelma. Image Credit: Magnolia Pictures.

Thelma isn’t your classic revenge story — well it is but it also isn’t. Not many revenge thrillers feature a cute as-a-button 93-year-old at the center. And that’s what makes Thelma so special. After being ripped off for $10,000, Thelma, played by the delightful June Squibb, takes it upon herself to track down the money and get it back by any means necessary. Playfully drawing self-aware comparisons to the Mission: Impossible franchise, this movie is full of unrivaled heart and humor.

It also features a dynamite cast — Fred Hechinger as the loveable yet aloof grandson, Parker Posey and Clark Gregg as his corny yet hilarious parents, and Richard Roundtree as Thelma’s partner in crime. It not only presents the message of the importance of family in a delightful way, it flips the coin and manages to hammer home the power of choosing to live life instead of letting it pass you by. Easily one of the most joyous movies of 2024 so far, June Squibb is a national treasure and Thelma is too.

‘My Sextortion Diary’ — Directed by Patricia Franquesa

Patricia Franquesa stands in a red jumpsuit near her desk in her bedroom, pondering her next move to avoid having personal photos released of her. I Agents of Fandom
My Sextortion Diary ponders the reality of having personal photos released by a blackmailer. Image Credit: Gadea Films.

My Sextortion Diary, at just over an hour in length and featuring some energetic and swift editing, is an exciting and empowering documentary about what happens when one woman’s laptop is stolen and personal images of her are threatened to be sent to everyone she knows. Patricia Franquesa, who is also the director of the film, documented every step along the way in seeking justice for an incident in which she was the victim of sextortion.

A damning look at the lack of interest from authorities in a stigmatized crime, My Sextortion Diary sees Pati take a truly horrifying situation — blackmailing someone for money while threatening to release private images of them to those they love most — and flip it on its head with her own powerful energy. Swiftly paced and engaging at every turn, the film shines a spotlight on a world shrouded in darkness.

‘Agent of Happiness’ — Directed by Arun Bhattarai & Dorottya Zurbó

Amber and his partner sit on the wood and velvet couch of a Bhutanese resident with their stacks of paper, asking him about his life and what makes him happy I Agents of Fandom
Agent of Happiness explores what the emotion means to different people. Image Credit: SIFF.

Can happiness be measured? Agent of Happiness tries to answer that very question. This documentary follows a Bhutanese man, Amber, as he embarks on a governmental task to survey different types of people all across Bhutan and measure their happiness for the Gross National Happiness Index. Along his journey, he searches for his own answer to happiness and explores the deeper meaning of life.

Authentic in its style, Agent of Happiness allows time to connect to various subjects from different parts of Bhutan — a transgender dancer in the city, a lonesome widow in the country, and a divorced mother of two daughters are among the main participants. This film left me feeling optimistic, joyful, and overwhelmed with just how exuberant and awesome Amber truly is. Agent of Happiness is my favorite documentary this year and easily my favorite movie out of the entirety of SIFF (aka Agent of Happiness is Agents of Fandom approved).

‘We Strangers’ — Directed by Anu Valia

A side shot of Kirby as Ray Martin in We Strangers | Agents of Fandom
Like Ray’s power dynamic with her employers, We Strangers keeps its viewers off-balance. Image Credit: SIFF.

We Strangers follows Ray (Kirby), a commercial cleaner who is hired on as a personal housekeeper for a wealthy family, and mysteriously begins to unravel the dark underpinnings of upscale society as well as her own life. Featuring elements of Get Out, In Fabric, and Zola, We Strangers exhibits high-tension, “anything can happen at any moment” filmmaking done right — there was one moment in particular where I literally gasped out loud.

The film ultimately works best when it explores themes of race, power dynamics, and assimilation by juxtaposing Ray with her affluent employer and strays a bit when it tries to tackle those same themes in Ray’s personal life. All in all, at just 86 minutes long, this movie is more than worth a watch and something that could end up becoming one of the better thrillers of the year.

‘Scala!!!’ — Directed by
Ali Catterall & Jane Giles

An iconic monthly programming poster the Scala cinema, featuring obtuse cutout images and yellow and purple colors, has been repurposed as the official movie poster for Scala!!! I Agents of Fandom
An iconic monthly programming poster from the Scala cinema is recreated as the film’s marketing poster. Image Credit: SIFF.

A documentary about perhaps the coolest, strangest, most punk cinema of all time, Scala!!! dives into the storied history of the Scala cinema in London, England, and its momentous run from 1978-1993. Featuring talking heads from artists, musicians, attendees, and filmmakers such as John Waters, the cinema’s pivotal past is explored in devious detail.

With its erotic offerings, wild all-night screenings, and promiscuous off-screen activities, the Scala cinema undoubtedly shaped a generation of movie-goers in London in the 1980s and beyond. While the documentary itself doesn’t offer anything truly tantalizing in terms of filmmaking, the stories more than make up for it, presenting a true glimpse at the power of cinema and the magic of movies.

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