Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Surprise! Jenn Misko here – as was kindly mentioned, I’m joining Team TIG for SIFF coverage this year. I’ve covered the last few years for another Seattle publication – The SunBreak – and I’m super excited to start my journey now with Three Imaginary Girls!

I did take in as many screenings as I could during the in-person fest, and I’m still cramming in virtual ones via the SIFF Channel as we speak – but first, I’d like to just report back on some of the fun event-style screenings that were held for the 49th edition of the Seattle International Film Festival!


First, of course, was opening night: a gala screening of A24’s Past Lives at the fabulous Paramount Theatre, followed by a Q&A with first-time director Celine Song, and then a party mostly consisting of bumping into friends in line at food trucks in the street outside.

the author with her charming date and sparkly blue beverage at the aforementioned party of lines

The film is really lovely: a gentle and sensitive portrait of the struggle to find fulfillment and love, and treat other people with kindness and generosity along the way. It manages to avoid several clichéd pitfalls of its genre (somewhere between a romance and an adult coming-of-age), and instead just brings its characters to vivid life on screen. They’re easy to identify with and care for, and to get caught up in their dilemmas and foibles. It’s not a plot-heavy film, in a way that I can imagine could be frustrating to someone who hears the elevator-pitch (childhood sweethearts reunite after one of them has moved from South Korea to New York and married someone else) and expects fireworks. Those fireworks are all in the long stares and meaningful subtle gestures; it’s a painful story of longing, bad timing, grief, and ultimately finding contentment and peace, like one might find in a Wong Kar-Wai film.

In her Q&A moderated by Beth Barrett (SIFF’s artistic director), writer-director Celine Song mentioned that the film is “inspired by” her own life as a Korean-Canadian filmmaker now living in the United States. She described finding the spark of the story while living through the film’s perfect opening scene, which introduces the three main characters – Nora (Greta Lee), Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), and Arthur (John Magaro) – so well that I don’t want to tell you any more about it. Instead I just want to very strongly recommend checking out this film when it hits wide release in theaters, which is set to happen in the middle of next month.

Beth Barret (left) and Celine Song (right) in post-screening Q&A

{Past Lives opens at the SIFF Cinema Uptown on June 15.}

image courtesy of


One of this year’s few repertory titles was also one of its most highly-toted “spotlight screenings”: a screening of Andrew Fleming’s 1996 teen-witch classic, The Craft, alongside a brand new “alternate soundtrack” spun live by DJ NicFit. (Official title of this event: “SIFF & CFC Present The Craft with DJ NicFit”.) NicFit is no stranger to this type of event – the creator of “Cross-Faded Cinema” (that’s the “CFC” in the event name) has also put together SIFF’s prior screenings of Highlander (with an all-Queen soundtrack) and Fantastic Voyage (with a Flaming Lips soundtrack) – and that trademark style came through loud and clear here, with a new soundtrack fittingly stuffed entirely with pop and rock songs performed by women (or bands fronted by women).

The experience was pretty heavily focused on the music, somewhat to the detriment of following the film; I wouldn’t have recommended this to a viewer who hasn’t seen The Craft before. But that’s why these events use cult classics up on the screen, with the reasonable assumption that it’s already a favorite film of the audience who turns up. The cheer that erupted at the beloved line, “We are the weirdos, mister”, certainly confirmed that.

It’s a good thing that important line of dialogue was audible: a major feature of this “alternate soundtrack” was that it was mixed more loudly than the film’s dialogue track, intermittently drowning it out. Closed captions were on screen to compensate – not just subtitles, but the SDH kind of titles that include information like “[car screeching]” and “[body popping]” as well as the lyrics to the original soundtrack’s songs. Fun or distracting? You decide.

NicFit’s best moments came when the music choice commented on or dovetailed with the action onscreen, sometimes pointedly. I definitely enjoyed it, although I think a more moderate balance in the sound mix would have suited my preferences even better. The first Billie Eilish song felt cheeky and cute – the second one was maybe a bit overkill. But I would definitely attend a DJ NicFit/Cross-Faded Cinema event again!

{This was a one-night-only live experience, but The Craft is streaming on HBO’s recently-rebranded “Max”; keep an eye out for future events by DJ NicFit/Cross-Faded Cinema!}


The festival’s second “spotlight screening” was a sold-out world premiere by a celebrated local director. Megan Griffiths’ latest is the story of Ivy (Sarah Jeffery), a high school senior who has to uproot her life and move from Aspen to Seattle when her parents (Jane Adams and Jake Weber) divorce. Most of the action actually takes place over a summer back in Aspen, although there are enough bits bouncing into and out of Seattle to register as a local production as well.

In my opinion, Sadie (SIFF 2018), which was produced by this film’s writer/producer (Eliza Flug), is still Griffiths’ high-water mark, especially in how human and real all the characters in that film felt – including the kids. In Year of the Fox, I found myself returning to one thought: I don’t think kids are like this anymore. The teens in this film are frequently cruel and unkind to one another, and are always peer pressuring each other into experimentation with drugs, alcohol, and sex before they’re ready. The teens I know these days are much more gentle and considerate with each other – we’ve evolved past this as a culture! But that’s the point at which I realized that this film is actually a period piece. Besides the mean-girls stuff, the only period giveaway I picked up on was the land line phones, until the very end of the film when a “Class of 1998” banner showed up. Maybe I missed other signifiers (90s fashion is back in right now, so costumes were no help!); maybe it wasn’t telegraphed very clearly because it’s not that important. But I think there actually has been a shift in the way kids act since the days when I personally was a teen, which does make the film’s time period a relevant detail. There were a lot more teens like this in the 1998 that I remember!

I also wasn’t wild about the film’s breathy, overwrought voiceover: I would have preferred to simply trust the film to show its particulars, rather than be bludgeoned by an unnecessary amount of telling me about them. I realize this is exactly the opposite of my last criticism: so do I want to be spoon-fed more information, or less? Look: I am large, I contain multitudes.

I did get excited about the familiar faces showing up in smaller parts: MAD TV’s Arden Myrin as Ivy’s dad’s new girlfriend; Twin Peaks’ Balthazar Getty as a charming creep; sometime Seattleite Linas Phillips in a little cameo. Plus deep in the credits is another Seattle director, SJ Chiro (Lane 1974, SIFF 2017; East of the Mountains, virtual-SIFF 2021), moonlighting as an intimacy coordinator! Those were all delightful little jolts of recognition.

I think that ultimately, Year of the Fox may not know what exactly it wants to say, which leads to some hit-or-miss methods of saying whatever that is. But it does shine with a deep warmth and affection for its characters and its places, and there’s always something to be said for that.

{This premiere event has concluded; I have no insider knowledge on this, but it’s a safe bet that Year of the Fox will eventually play at SIFF Cinemas: keep an eye on SIFF’s calendar}


SIFF’s closing night film was touted as a coming-of-age comedy about Lawrence (Isaiah Lehtinen), a “misfit” cinephile Canadian teen in 2002 who gets a job at a local video store on his presumed way to NYU film school. I found that this description does this film a disservice by straying too far from accuracy: Lawrence is not simply a relatable weirdo cinephile (my people!!), but rather a (reportedly deliberately) heavily unlikeable character, referred to in the story as a “narcissist” with “emotional problems”, who undergoes a very minimal amount of growth. It’s not a super feel-good redemption-arc type of story, just an incremental change. Furthermore, it feels like a pretty major omission to never acknowledge that this character is clearly coded as autistic.

First-time feature director Chandler Levack was present for a Q&A after the film’s gala screening at the Egyptian on that final Sunday night. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend that screening, but I did manage to gather some intel from pals who did. One source shared that nobody in the Q&A – director, moderator, nor audience members who asked questions – used the word “autistic” – but rather continued referring to the character as “awkward” and “unlikeable”. This feels to me like a pretty tragic understanding of autism, even an insult to the neurodivergent community. There is, however, one point that may justify this lapse: this coming-of-age story is yet another millennial period piece. (This group of films is nothing if not consistent!) It is true that back around the turn of the century, our collective cultural understanding and sensitivity around neurodivergence was considerably less evolved, possibly even to the point that it’s plausible that nobody in Lawrence’s life, including Lawrence himself, would recognize his characteristics as those of someone on the spectrum. Still feels like weird information to sidestep in a film coming out in 2023, though.

Like imaginary embracey, I did particularly enjoy I Like Movies’ supporting cast, including Andy McQueen as Lawrence’s coworker (also known to me as “Jay” on the new Peacock streamer Mrs. Davis), as well as Percy Hynes White (the brooding “Xavier” on Netflix’s smash Wednesday) who plays Lawrence’s best friend.

This wasn’t really the fun, lighthearted romp I’d been expecting, and its relationship to mental health and neurodivergence is worth drilling down into. But to a cinephile, movies about characters who love movies will always be catnip (and the film’s 4:3 aspect ratio lending a period-impression impression of videotape certainly doesn’t hurt), so there’s still plenty to recommend this piece for the voracious filmgoer.

{This premiere event has concluded, but keep an eye on the film’s Instagram account to find out about its next steps}

So there you have it, my thoughts on SIFF’s four big “event” screenings of the 2023 festival. I do have thoughts I’d like to share on many more films from the program, as well – apologies for their belated nature, but please do look out for more soon!