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World Premieres to Watch For

Any veteran film festivalgoer knows that the World Premiere designation before a film is a broad and uneven category. It’s no guarantee of quality, and may, in fact, be a tip-off for a film going straight to video, or worse. In the festival world — especially beneath the tightly curated upper echelon of festivals — world premiere may be a code word for “last stop before oblivion.” Suffice to say, some of the bleakest moments in our own Film Fest history have occurred at “world premiere” events.

Pardon the glum moment, because on the other hand, some of the gems of Film Fest 2006 may well be lurking under the world premiere umbrella. Expectations reasonably run high for the opening-night world premiere, 7:30 p.m. at the Arlington, of the great screenwriter Robert Towne’s new film, Ask the Dust (see interview with Towne on pg. 37), an adaptation of a John Fante novel and one of few films Towne has both written and directed. Oh, and the cast includes Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek and Donald Sutherland. Hayek, and possibly Sutherland, will be in the house, along with Towne.

The festival’s Centerpiece event (Tue., Feb. 7, 7:30 p.m., at the Arlington) is the world premiere of writer-director Mike Binder’s Man About Town, with a cast including Ben Affleck as a cuckolded Hollywood agent in search of self. Also in the cast are Rebecca Romijn, Bai Ling, and John Cleese.

On the documentary side of things, the recommended fare includes Todd Ahlberg’s METH, about the rising popularity of crystal meth in the gay community; No Limit: A Search for the American Dream on the Poker Tournament Trail, directed by Tim Rhys and Brian O’Hare; and Anne Makepeace’s Rain in a Dry Land, chronicling two Bantu families making their way in America.

S.B. filmmakers hitting the big screen this year include Russ Spencer, with DreamTending, an investigation into the world of depth psychology and the stuff of dreams. First-time filmmaker and wine connoisseur-in-training, Robert Dafoe took his Sideways-fueled curiosity about wine to the Santa Ynez wine country and brings back his own valentine to wine, From Ground to Glass. Another Santa Barbara-based filmmaker, Bob Collector, premieres his feature film Believe in Me, about a high school basketball coach, based on a true story.

Also in the sizable “world premiere” corner are the provocatively strange Planet Ibsen — Jonathan Wyche’s highly stylized play-within-a-nightmare fantasy about tensions between Scandinavian playwrights Ibsen and Strindberg. And one film that’s making fest staffers excited is The Hamiltons, which is an artsy entrée served up under the horror menu by the aptly named Butcher Brothers. From the Cult Asian sidebar of the festival, comes Yoh Komaya’s tale of con artistry, D. And one film that’s making fest staffers excited is The Hamiltons, which is an artsy entree served up under the horror menu by the aptly named Butcher Brothers.

The benefit of hindsight will separate the wheat from the chaff. We’ll compare notes in two weeks.

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