Santa Barbara Filmmakers Big at Fest
When it comes to showing the work of local filmmakers, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has to be the most inclusive festival in the world. More than 30 locally made films will be shown this year, right alongside the Hollywood films and the glitzy tributes to the big stars. If you know anything about film festivals, you know that this is not ordinarily how things are done. Not only do these films get seen on the big screen, they also get the cachet that comes with being an “official selection” in a major festival.
All of this is due to film fest creative director Roger Durling, who secured two additional venues this year (the Marjorie Luke and Center Stage) just to handle all these films. As one of four “guest directors” helping Durling to program the ’06 festival, I am in charge of the Santa Barbara Filmmakers section and To the Maxxx, a sidebar of extreme sports films, most of which are also by S.B. directors (see page 35).
Of the 13 full-length S.B. films we are presenting this year, only two are narrative films. The rest are documentaries, or, in another bout of unprecedented Film Festival innovation, an art installation film. In addition, some of the most daring and accomplished Santa Barbara films on view this year are short subjects.
Three of the full-length selections come out of UCSB. Video Portraits of Survival is a compilation of six portraits of Holocaust survivors who live in Santa Barbara. The vignettes were produced by students of UCSB Film Studies Chair Janet Walker — a must-see. Sociologist Kum Kum Bhavnani weighs in with The Shape of Water, a 70-minute documentary that tells the stories of five women striving to overcome political, social, and economic struggles. Nobel-winning physicist Walter Kohn is a longtime proponent of solar energy, and he is the executive producer of The Power of the Sun, an hour-long advocacy film narrated by John Cleese.
Another advocacy project, Building Green, was developed by actor Kevin Contreras and producer Michael Matioli. It’s actually two pilot shows for a television series about how to build in environmentally responsible ways. My film DreamTending is a documentary about the innovative work being done with dreams by Santa Barbara’s dream specialist, Dr. Stephen Aizenstat. Steve is president of the Pacifica Graduate Institute, and he is known far and wide to adherents of depth psychology. The film includes appearances by James Hillman, Robert Johnson, Marion Woodman, and Michael Meade. In Who Needs Sleep? celebrated cinematographer Haskell Wexler (the Santa Barbaran with the most Oscars) bites the hand that feeds him by examining the toll that long film shoots take on crew members. It comes here direct from its premiere at Sundance.
I’m proud to have another Jack Johnson film to offer this year. A Weekend at the Greek: Jack Johnson and Friends presents an endearing portrait of our local troubadour, cutting between live concert footage and behind-the-scenes interviews. Jack’s buddy Emmett Malloy directed this instant classic.
Personal passion plays a strong role in two other documentaries that will be screened. In Lost in the Shadows, filmmaker Michael Colin embarks on a tender quest to find out what happened to his father, who was last heard from when he was in Cuba during the Castro revolution. Between Iraq and A Hard Place is an even-handed and touching look at what the Iraq war has cost soldiers who are making the transition back into civilian life. It was professionally produced by the Pratt brothers, and it’s a must-see. It will be presented with Caught in the Crossfire, a 20-minute short produced by Santa Barbara’s Mark Manning from unbelievable footage he personally shot in Falluja.
Our two narrative films focus on secrets held too long. For The Uniform Motion of Folly, television writer Jeanne Davis has directed her own script about a family trying to find identity and closure after the death of their father. All casting and shooting was done in Santa Barbara, and the cast includes well-known child actors Oliver and Morgan Davis. Leave It to Chance is a smart romantic comedy directed by San Luis Obispo’s Berand Badion.
The package called “Santa Barbara Shorts” represents the apex of South Coast film product. The four films on the bill include The Night of the Falcon, a 17-minute black-and-white film written and directed by Ted Mills. It’s a revelatory and hilarious look at what really happens during the making of a film. Glynn Beard, who holds the honor of having the most films in the festival of any local, brings us another fascinating film this year, Exit, which goes way out on a limb in its icy exploration of the corporate mind-set, and then turns around and hits us right in the heart. Transfer punches out 22 minutes of high-energy action, riffing on everyone from Tarantino to Starsky and Hutch as it explores a network of underworld figures tied together by their temporary ownership of a cigarette lighter. It’s a very hot, hilarious movie. Finally, Sense Memory is an honest, probing, and non-clichéd look at the generational effects of alcoholism, and features an ensemble of recognizable Santa Barbara thespians.
1 Dance 2 Sea is a video installation piece about the ocean created by filmmaker Robin Bisio and New York artist Roseanne Livingston. Their homage to Santa Barbara’s relationship with the sea will be on display continuously February 4 and 5 at Anthropologie.
“Santa Barbara’s Student Shorts” are all wonderfully entertaining films. Anthony in the Key of B is by a 16-year-old director — and it’s a musical! In a similar vein, Hero of the Game looks at schoolyard politics and features a bunch of Santa Barbara schoolkids. Dedication is a three-minute exploration of vanity from Leela Ross, who does for film what Cindy Sherman did for photography. Mocos in Revolt is a funny mockumentary from some UCSB students about rebels who will look anywhere for a cause. Firm is a tight, high-concept heist film. We also have a collection of three short docs, titled “S.B. Short Docs.” The featured doc, and one of the best in the entire festival, is Perspectives, a 27-minute film by student director Jeremy Guy about men who feed their families by collecting recyclables from the trash bins of wealthy UCSB students. Poignant and heartbreaking, Perspectives is one of those great festival finds — a perfect little film. Also in the collection are Ellwood, about the fight to save the Ellwood Mesa, and La Conchita Disaster, which chronicles the human and political fallot of the La Conchita mudslide