Eyes Wide Open

On the Beat

FILM FRENZY: Taking a page from Omar Khayy¡m, I wonder what filmmakers buy that is half so precious as what they sell?

Striding the sidewalks of Santa Barbara, I’m tempted to seize people by the lapels and drag them into the nearest Santa Barbara International Film Festival showing. Eye-opening, dramatic documentaries right on our doorstep.

Not that I’d have much luck squeezing many more into the well-attended screenings at Metro 4, the Museum of Art, Lobero Theatre, and Victoria Hall Theater, even while lines of movie buffs crowd into glitz ‘n’ glam Q&A sessions at the Arlington for international stars like Brit Kate Winslet and Penelope Cruz of Spain. The stage chats were intriguing and a rare opportunity to hear them being quizzed about filmmaking, but as one star-struck woman told me, “People are hungry for documentaries as well as entertainment.”

On the Beat

Ever hear of Kiran Bedi? She’s known in India as a latter-day Gandhi, famed for almost single-handedly reforming the police service of India (against great resistance by a foot-dragging and vengeful bureaucracy) and taming a notorious snake-pit prison in part through mediation and education, and is nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Her story is told in director Megan Doneman’s documentary Yes Madam, Sir.

Was Sister Dorothy murdered for the sake of turning Brazil’s rain forest into a big feed yard for hamburger-producing cattle? Director Daniel Junge’s They Killed Sister Dorothy tells how an American nun, Dorothy Stang, “Angel of the Amazon,” was gunned down for working with villagers fighting ranching interests that seized the land, cut down the trees, burned what was left, and brought in the cattle.

Megan Doneman, director of <em>Yes Madam, Sir</em>
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Megan Doneman, director of Yes Madam, Sir

Closer to home, and also a tale of corruption, Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times, is a documentary about the L.A. Times and how the Chandler family used the power of the press for private greed and political clout, with little care for journalistic ethics. All that changed when young Otis Chandler took over in 1960, transforming the paper into a highly respected Pulitzer Prize winner. Rather than the family bursting with pride, while pocketing zooming profits, some members were outraged that the Times was no longer a tool of the Republican Party and development. They managed finally to force out Otis Chandler.

And when Sam Zell of Chicago came along with big bucks, the family sold out the paper and its heritage. Zell’s empire is now in bankruptcy. But, says Tom Johnson, publisher during the Otis-era glory days but who also was forced out, the Times “remains an excellent newspaper.” Johnson told a film fest panel on Saturday, January 24, that the Los Angeles Times, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, is one of the three best papers in the nation.

One of the best things about the 200 or so films being shown during the film festival ending Sunday, February 1, is that often filmmakers take part in Q&As after a screening, fielding questions from the audience. “I grew up poor in Panama,” the festival’s Executive Director Roger Durling told the Arlington audience while introducing Penelope Cruz. Movies, he said, were his “solace.” Cruz, asked by Durling if she ever dreamed of being a famous actress, replied, “I came from a very small village in Spain.” Her parents brought home a Betamax video player “this big,” she said. “I became absorbed with movies.”

Cass Warner, director of The Brothers Warner
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Cass Warner, director of The Brothers Warner

After studying ballet, she headed for Madrid, a young girl hoping to break into the movies. “Everyone thought I was crazy.” Now, with many films behind her, she’s nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actress in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, made by Woody Allen, whom she terms “a genius.”

Handing Cruz the Chopin Outstanding Performer of the Year Award was actor Josh Brolin, who delivered perhaps the most bizarre, garbled introduction so far in the festival. The award for the loudest party of the fest surely should go to the bash Santa Barbaran Emmanuel Itier threw at Muddy Waters Cafe on East Haley Street. The band blasted the packed house, with Emmanuel loving it. Emmanuel, a French journalist, was celebrating his documentary The Invocation, the result of his worldwide interviews about spirituality, God, and the search for peace, inner and among humankind. It will be screened today, January 29, at 10:45 a.m. at Metro 4 and Saturday, January 31, at 3:30 p.m. at Victoria Hall Theater.

The Warner brothers-Jack, Sam, Harry, and Albert-were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Harry’s granddaughter, Cass Warner, has directed a documentary about their hard-earned battle (and among themselves as well) to build one of Hollywood’s top studios. (Thank you for Casablanca, etc.) Cass is a part-time Santa Barbaran. The Brothers Warner will be shown today at 1 p.m. at the Museum of Art and Saturday at 6 p.m. at Victoria Hall Theater. Tonight at 8 p.m., the Arlington will be the scene of a tribute to Clint Eastwood, surely the toughest ticket in town.

And cheers to two Santa Barbara women, Roma Singell and her sister Carol Miller, who took in 55 Santa Barbara fest movies last year and are well on their way to beating that record.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns throughout the week and a print column on Thursdays.

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