We may not have Hollywood to attract the world’s top filmmakers (thank god), but we do have the Santa Barbara International Film Festival to help retain them. And as the SBIFF continues to grow in prestige, so does entrance to Santa Barbara’s year-round film community.
“It’s amazing how many really good, professional filmmakers now call Santa Barbara home,” said Russ Spencer, who is in his third year of programming SBIFF’s local filmmaker category. As this community becomes more accomplished, it also becomes tighter and more competitive, with each artist pushing the others to their creative limits. As Spencer put it, “I really appreciate the commitment and passion I see, and the personal sacrifices local filmmakers make to continue doing their art. It’s like we’re all in it together, and it’s inspiring.” This year’s lineup — which includes several award winners and seven world premieres — is a testament to that commitment, divorcing the word “local” from its characteristic association with “small town.”
This is clear from the content of the films alone, several of which offer fresh outlooks on historical events we think we understand all too well. In Sitting Bull: A Stone in My Heart, husband-and-wife team John and Grace De Soto Ferry tell the story of the rise and tragic fall of the leader of the Sioux Nation in his own words, set to the backdrop of more than 600 archival photographs and paintings. Unlike mythic portrayals of Sitting Bull, the film achieves an even-handed, and consequently more trustworthy, approach to his battles with the white man.
Presenting a more personal look at another of the most horrific chapters in human history, Video Portraits of Survival returns to SBIFF for the second time, featuring four new portraits of S.B. residents who survived the Holocaust. The work of UCSB students, professors Kwame Braun and Janet Walker, and filmmaker Renée Bergan, the film marks one of the last times firsthand accounts of the reality of the genocide will be preserved on film.
In the short, disturbing film 9/11: Dust and Deceit at the World Trade Center, Penny Little documents the often overlooked threat the 9/11 attacks continue to pose to New Yorkers. Through interviews with scientists, rescue workers, and other experts, Little makes the case that thousands of New Yorkers have become ill due to the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to address the environmental hazard of Ground Zero.
For lighter realism, check out Sam Tyler’s Good to Great, which explores the mechanics of success by analyzing everything from Starbucks and Walgreens to elementary school classrooms. Based on Jim Collins’s bestseller by the same name, the film is required viewing for anyone who seeks a complete understanding of American culture. And in Geisha: An Artist’s Journey, Bryan Reichhardt follows Japanese-American performance artist Shizumi Shigeto Manale as she explores the roots of her inspiration in Tokyo, providing viewers with a rare insider’s look into the world of the geisha.
The program offers Santa Barbara history its fair share of screen time as well, beginning with Michael James and Tina Love’s Much Ado about ‘W’: Art Wars of Santa Barbara, which fleshes out the corporate-artistic controversy sparked by artist Colin Gray’s State Street sculpture featuring the McDonald’s logo. And few Santa Barbara residents can afford to miss The Price of Paradise, in which filmmaker and former Housing and Redevelopment employee Lisa Snider exposes Santa Barbara’s dire lack of affordable and workforce housing. A more poignant Santa Barbara tradition is documented in A Wake on the Pier, in which Veterans for Peace member Thomas Scheff films the reactions of visitors to the Arlington West Iraq War memorial next to Stearns Wharf.
Mirroring the spiritual offerings of Santa Barbara itself, the program also includes diverse answers to life’s existential questions. In 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama, veteran filmmaker Rick Ray carries the viewer on a pilgrimage through the magic and misery of India, offering a cogent account of the history of the Chinese occupation of Tibet along the way. The film culminates in a delightful interview with the “rockstar of peace” himself, who proffers his opinions on the best way to address the Israel/Palestine conflict, whether violence is ever necessary, and the need to abandon “out-of-date” traditions, such as sexism and war.
For a similarly uplifting — though substantively different — response to the state of the world, check out Patricia Gaul’s Humanity Ascending, in which renowned futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard explains our generation’s potential to create a positive new reality for the planet. Hubbard, who lives in Santa Barbara, is the founder of the Center for Conscious Evolution, which aims to jumpstart humanity’s entrance into “the next stage of evolution.”
The World War II drama Beautiful Dreamer, directed by Terri Farley-Teruel, portrays war’s toll on the families of soldiers, even for those who are lucky enough to come home. Ultimately a feel-good slice of small-town American life, the film won best feature film in the Temecula Film Festival and the Central Florida Film Festival. Per Anderson offers a lighter fictive option with his world premiere Stanley Cuba. Billed as “the best weird movie ever,” this parody of the life of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick questions what it truly means to get paid for one’s art. And SBIFF favorite John McKinney premieres his Fantasy Music, which chronicles the comic misadventures of two best friends who are men in body and boys at heart. But for programmer Spencer, the “real stand-out” of the imaginative options is the Local Shorts Collection, including work by 10 up-and-coming directors.
Of course no Santa Barbara film lineup would be complete without its share of outdoor adventure. Breathe!, directed by Don Murray, is based on the life of Santa Barbara resident and world-famous wildlife filmmaker Tom Campbell. Sea People of Honduras, Arctic Expedition, and Desperate Measures — directed by Rick Rosenthal, Gail Osherenko, and Fred Weston Smith, respectively — will screen together, showing viewers that the earth ends at more than one place.