A Rundown of What I've Seen So Far
I've been covering the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in some capacity for the past seven years, but with a full work load, it always seems impossible to catch as many movies as I'd like.
That's even more the case these days, with the website to maintain and the film fest print coverage to edit. But I decided this year that I'd make a concerted effort to get out and see more films than I ever had before.
Am I on track to break the lackluster pace of previous years? Well, so long as I catch another 10 films before Friday night (is that even possible?!?), then I should have broken my personal best by far. So what have I seen? Here's a rundown, listed in order of when I saw them. (Please check SBIFF.org for the updated schedule; some of these films may have screenings added after this article comes out.)
Since my Francophile fiancee (she was born in Bordeaux) loves anything French, I tend to play the naysayer as much as possible. (Though it's increasingly hard to deny the greatness of French cheese, wine, and -- since I also just saw Army of Shadows -- film.) But from the opening scene of this film (which I saw Friday night), I was hooked on the cute protagonist, a lovely girl from Macon named Jessica. We watched as she entered the swanky, interconnected world that is Paris' Avenue Montaigne, it's most luxurious street, and then felt for her as the other characters swirled around. This is an excellent and funny movie about life at all its myriad stages: naivete, first loves, midlife crisis, divorce, death, and everything in between. It's title in French translates to "Orchestra Seats," and that makes more sense, for it's all about where we are seated in life, and how to get a closer look at the action. (There are no more screenings of this, unless one gets added.)
(Thanks to the astute reader/stalker who commented below, I added this to the list Thursday morning.) I caught this mountain bike history doc on Saturday morning, and found it enlightening and entertaining. I've ridden mountain bikes in some capacity since I was a little kid, and always knew that there was some hidden history to the whole industry. Klunkerz lays that Northern California legacy out for all to see, while consciously refraining from stoking the controversial fires that continue to burn the sport. The end result is an all-fun affair, an endearing look back at an era when riding fat tired cruisers down steep mountains was an afternoon escape enjoyed by just a few. For a more thorough review by Martha Sadler, go here. (There are no more screenings scheduled for this film.)
On Sunday afternoon, as the rain fell, I headed to the Marjorie Luke Theatre to see Natalie Sanderson's Lost Souls. The only local filmmaker to ever make it to the main festival competition, I knew Sanderson's documentary about the theft of ancient art from Nepal would be eye-opening. And it was, as I learned that almost all of the Nepalese art we see in museums was either plundered illegally or, as an audience member claimed during the Q&A that followed, was exported by the royal family. Full of vivid imagery, investigative filmmaking, and thought-provoking questions about how to best preserve Nepal's heritage, Lost Souls should be mandatory viewing for anyone who visits museums anywhere in the world. It's also makes you want to go to Nepal tomorrow. (There are no more screenings of this film unless one gets added.)
This was the first film that I really had to ditch out on official work for, which was on Monday afternoon. Roger Durling -- aka The Durls -- himself introduced the film, saying it was one of his favorites. A Romanian comedy that seeks to answer the questions of whether this village was part of the anti-communist revolution in 1989, the film's pace is languid, allowing the impoverished richness of the Romanian village to seep in. It's a quirky, critical look at where the free world has taken Romania, but it ends in a talk show full of comedic hijinks. However, while most people found this to be the most redeeming part of the movie, I preferred the slice of life looks we got in the latter part of the film. This talk show part goes on a little too long for me, and the jokes about the drunk guy are so rehashed over and over again, that I started to doze off. Still, it's worth checking out for a peek at Romanian comedy these days. (This film screens again on Thursday, February 1, 4:15 p.m., Metro 4, and Saturday, February 3, 1:15 p.m. Metro 4.)
I saw this doc about the gated community of Canyon lake, California -- a supposedly safe place with its own share of distinct problems -- on Monday night, and was happy to find out that filmmaker Charlie LeDuff was introducting the film. He was drunk, the film was awesome, and you all missed out on quite the night. For the full rundown, go here. (There are no more screenings planned for this film.)
Here's an excellent, enchanting film about immigration from Italy to America that I saw on Tuesday afternoon. But, like Avenue Montaigne, file this one under the "Misnamed" category. What, exactly, is the golden door? The original Italian title Nuovomundo, or "New World," is a much more apt description of the movie. (Of course, there was that American film The New World awhile back, so perhaps that ended this one's hopes.) As such, we follow the odd path of one Sicilian family all the way to Ellis Island, encountering startling historical realities (testing immigrants for stupidity with block puzzles, duping them into buying drugs for the crossing) and fascinating fantasies (rivers of milk, tree-sized carrots, money trees). It's surreal historical realism done right. (There are no more screenings of this film planned.)
I caught this Australian aboriginal film right after Golden Door, hoping that it would stoke the anthropology fires of my college days. It did rather well, with it's seemingly accurate recreation of traditional aboriginal life, all told through the lips of a veteran storyteller and with the irreverent humor needed to keep things moving along. I can't say that I loved the film as much as Josef Woodard did (see him call it "clearly one of the finest films of this festival" right here), but the lesson of patience was learned well. (There are no more screenings of this film planned.)
The most suprisingly hilarious and all-around-great film of the fest for me has got to be this Korean tragicomedy about a man who falls in love for the first time. Problem is, his newfound love has a bit of a murderous path, aided with her purchasing of a kim-chi refrigerator and frequent trips to the woods. Light-hearted but heartfelt with great acting, a fast-moving plot, and a unique peek into the techno-soaked Korean culture, this is a must-see, and a feature that will probably show up in American theaters with English-speaking actors one of these days. (It's just distinct enough from So I Married an Axe Murderer to warrant it.) (This film plays again on Thursday, February 1, at 9:45 p.m. in the Metro 4.)
(Thanks to the astute reader/stalker who commented below, I also added this to the list Thursday morning.) I saw this film on Wednesday afternoon, and producer Fisher Stevens (pictured, who you would also know as the actor from Factotum, The Flamingo Kid, Short Circuit, and other movies and TV shows) was on hand to introduce it and do a Q&A afterward. This documentary is about a couple who has the most bizarre, violent, and stranger-than-fiction relationship in the history of relationships. It's hard to explain the film without giving away some of its perfectly presented punchlines, but it's safe to say that it's a tale where love (or something like love) conquers all. At it's core, Crazy Love is about obsession, abuse, and mental illness, but it comes in a funny package that's fun to open. And the close-up camerawork gives the film an intimate feeling, and by the end, you feel like you know all these people like family (albeit very, very weird family). In the Q&A that followed, Fisher Stevens got applause when he said that it was the first film to sell this year at Sundance; Magnolia will be distributing it in the summer to a theater near you. But see it now, and then be the one to tell all your friends about it. (Crazy Love screens again on Friday, February 2, 7:45 p.m., in the Metro 4 and on Saturday, February 3, 9:30 p.m. at Center Stage Theater.)
In this list, I should also include the screeners that I was able to check out before the fest even started. Here are those:
Great if thoroughly depressing film. Sienna Miller is Edie Sedgwick, and the muse is given a fair, honest treatment here. As the fest's opening night film, it won't be showing again until it comes to a multiplex by you.
Shot in the streets of war-tearing-apart Baghdad, this tale of what happened to some mental patients when the recent invasion of Iraq occurred is special and a proud achievement given the circumstances. The story is meaningful, the execution solid, and the message not getting to enough Americans. Josef Woodard also gives this one a nod here. (It has no more screenings planned.)
Macky Alston’s stirring, gripping piece is about esteemed University of Arizona environmental psychology professor Bob Bechtel, whose hidden history as a dormitory murderer — and quick freedom after an insanity ruling — is revealed for friends, family, and colleagues before the lens. This is excellent documentary work in which a simple man’s scary story washes over the viewer as strongly as it washed over his own relatives, aided by creepy music from the Kronos Quartet and insight from confused mental health professionals. (This film screens again on Thursday, February 1, 4:45 p.m., Metro 4, and Saturday, February 3, 10:30 a.m., Center Stage.)
For a glimpse at the good old days, go see this. As the style-creating tailorshop owner who dressed the Rat Pack, Monty Hall, the Duke of Windsor, Elvis Presley, and everyone since, Cecile Leroy Beaulieu’s touching and meaningful portrait of Taylor, his family, coworkers, and fans also serves as a primer on male fashion and why coming generations no longer have men to look up to. (There are no more screenings planned for this film.)
In Adam Bardach’s documentary, screenwriter and aspiring director Scott Lew battles the ravages of Lou Gherig’s disease as he directs his first feature film. As Lew’s condition worsens, his spirit remains unfettered, acting as a testament to making the most out of life. (This film has its World Premiere on Saturday, February 3, at 3:30 p.m. in Victoria Hall. It also will screen on Sunday, February 4, 1 p.m. in Victoria Hall.)
This is Logan Smalley’s ode to his friend Darius Weems, a 19-year-old from Athens, Georgia, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the number-one genetic killer in the world that takes its victims’ lives by their early twenties. Weems wants MTV’s "Pimp My Ride" show to fix up his “raggedy wheelchair,” so his friends decide to take an RV out west to California and get the job done. Meanwhile, Weems’s raps — which served as his correspondence to MTV — are interlaced in the film between shots of the inspirational young man’s dips in the ocean, hot air balloon rides, river rafting trips, and becoming a media sensation. (This film's World Premiere is Thursday, February 1, 7:45 p.m. in the Metro 4. It also shows on Friday, February 2, at 9 p.m. in Victoria Hall and on Sunday, 10:30 a.m., at Center Stage Theater.)
A land of endless problems and innovative solutions, Africa is always a hotbed for documentaries, and this one by Eric Matthies and Tricia Todd, is a perfect example. It;s about bringing bicycles to Ghana and how much of a positive impact that project has for rural living. (There are no more screenings planned for this film.)
And another one from Africa is Jessie Deeter’s journalistic take on the difficult disarmament project in Liberia, where young men have waged war on each other for decades. It shows the geopolitical challenge of disarming an entire countryside, made all the more difficult because life ruled by the gun is all these people know. (There are no more screenings planned for this film.)