All the King’s Movies: The king, natch, is Roger Durling, the ever-present director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Durling, his stand-up hair a different color every night, is everywhere, introducing everything, running from theater to theater to party, friendly but a bit frazzled and even dazzled.
By no means have I seen every movie in the fest, but a few stand out so far. The most powerful are Amazing Grace, the story of how William Wilberforce launched a winning campaign to ban slavery in Britain, and 9th Company, the true story of the bloody battle that wiped out Soviet recruits in the last days of the foolish war in Afghanistan. While Amazing Grace was fought largely in Parliament, 9th Company is down and dirty in the dust, courage for naught, lives wasted, as mad as any war. Michael Apted, director of Amazing Grace, will be at the Metro 4 Theater Saturday at 4 p.m. for one of the festival’s Conversations With programs. After that his new film 49 Up will be screened.
The Queen, on the other hand, is the polite, nuanced story of how the British royal family reacted so shamefully to the death of Princess Diana. Is there any wonder that public opinion there questions the relevancy of the monarchy? After the first minute or so you completely believe that the magnificent Helen Mirren is really the queen, so cold, so hidebound, so lacking in not only compassion but a sense of what “her people” are feeling. Mirren’s an odd-on favorite to win an Oscar, but oddly some at the Festival have a gut feeling that the Oscar for best picture will go to (are you ready?) Little Miss Sunshine. Why? Well in these grim times, it’s a feel-good movie, full of quirky characters and about a dysfunctional family that gets it together. There’s a happy, upbeat ending and best of all the delightful little Olive, who’ll win anyone’s heart.
What strikes me is that the festival is heavy on serious themes, and properly so. There are escapist films, of course, but important ones too, such as An Inconvenient Truth. Al Gore, the man who could have been president except for the Electoral College, and director Davis Guggenheim will both be at the February 2 at the Arlington at 6 p.m., where the film about the danger of global warming receives the 2007 David Attenborough Award for Excellence in Nature Filmmaking.
While watching Amazing Grace, which dealt with the slave trade from Africa to England’s Caribbean colonies and the U.S., I thought of the slavery that continues today, under our very noses. By coincidence, Westmont College is focusing on the global, and U.S., slave trade. On Tuesday, the film The Violence of Light, “documenting human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the U.S.,” will be shown at 7 p.m. at Carroll Observatory, Westmont announced.
On Wednesday, Westmont alum David Batstone, University of San Francisco professor of ethics, will speak at 10:30 a.m. at the chapel and sign his new book, Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It. A panel discussion will follow. All events are free and open to the public.
Plenty more films will be screened before the festival closes Sunday night. On Friday, Feb. 2, I hope to catch Barrio Cuba (11:15 a.m. at the Metro 4). On Saturday, East of Bucharest, a satire about post-Communist Romania, screens at Metro 2 theater at 1:15 p.m. and A Very British Gangster at the Marjorie Luke at 4:30 p.m. Gangster repeats Sunday at Metro 4 at 7:45 p.m.
Major events include Forest Whitaker receiving the Riviera Award Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Arlington. He’s an Oscar contender for The Last King of Scotland, showing Saturday at 4:15 p.m. at Metro 2 screen.
The closing film, Gray Matters, Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at the Arlington, has a gay twist. In the comedy, Heather Graham’s character falls for the same woman as her brother does.
(You can reach Barney Brantingham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-965-5205. He also writes at Tuesday online column and a Thursday Independent print column.)