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<em>Good For Nothing</em>

Good For Nothing


41 Films to See

The Independent‘s Cheat Sheet to SBIFF 2011


Thursday, January 27, 2011

As usual, there are more than 200 films in this year’s installment of SBIFF, and all are worthy of your attention. But given that there are only so many hours in each day, The Independent — with a bit of inside guidance from film fest staffers — is presenting this list of 41 films that you must make sure to see over the next 10 days. They’re listed below in no particular order, and this does not include Santa Barbara filmmakers, who are covered here.

FEATURES

Face to Face: Based on true mediation notes, this dramatic inside look at Australia’s crime-resolution process shows how sometimes there’s much more to a story than just the violent outburst at the end of a conflict. Watch as one man’s world collapses around him. (MK)

You Are Here: This head-scratching mindbender, which explores the notion of self while revolving around an archivist, location organizers, special eyeballs, and a red sphere, may go down as the best SBIFF entry ever for the mind-altering–substance crowd. (MK)

Good for Nothing: This “Kiwi Western” is a comical romp through the clichés of the Old West, complete with a damsel in distress, bad guy gone good, perilously bloodthirsty posse, Chinese and Native American medicine men, and stunning scenery from New Zealand. (MK)

Small Town Murder Songs: An elegantly told, skillfully acted, beautifully shot, and perfectly scored murder mystery set in a Mennonite town in Ontario, Canada, this film riffs on redemption, alludes to violent pasts, and rewards street-smart policing. (MK)

Simple Simon: This endearing dramatic comedy from Sweden paints a sweet portrait of Asperger syndrome as an amusingly afflicted brother moves mountains to find a new lover for his “normal” brother/guardian. Throw in subtle but awesome graphics, phenomenal acting, and a witty-wise script, and this is easily a front-runner for The Independent’s Audience Choice Award. (MK)

The Whistleblower: Never before has the modern human trafficking of sex slaves been so powerfully presented as in this dramatized take on the life of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop (played here brilliantly by Rachel Weisz) who stumbled upon the biggest United Nations/DynCorp scandal as a peacekeeper in Bosnia. (MK)

That’s What I Am: Appropriately heartwarming for the feel-good slot as SBIFF’s Centerpiece Film, this is a Wonder Years-esque tale of ’60s Americana in which a boy learns about bullies, dignity, kissing, and cooties while being inspired by his favorite teacher (played by Ed Harris), whose unknown sexuality threatens to scandalize all. (MK)

The First Grader: When an 84-year-old former freedom fighter wants to attend elementary school in Kenya, he faces the most trouble since his tortuous days in refugee camps. This true story exalts the power of education and reminds that persistence shall triumph over adversity. (MK)

Angels & Airwaves Presents “Love”: You might imagine filmmakers would know better than to let astronauts go up solo. William Eubank’s surreal space odyssey, based on L.A. supergroup Angels & Airwaves’ album, treads the familiar astronaut existentialism spaceways, yet stands alone hauntingly with apocalyptic imagery and a resounding call for human connection. (DJP)

Benavides Born: This get-out-of-the-barrio tale set in rural Texas features Luz, a moody but principled high school senior employing the unlikely path of competitive weightlifting to achieve her ambitions. The movie’s richest vein, though, is its explorations of hope and hopelessness among a coterie of vibrant people caught in bleak houses. (DJP)

The Double Hour: This supernatural romance thriller/whodunit crime caper set in Turin, Italy, features more tasty twists than a pretzel and leaves the viewer wondering whether love — even seemingly from beyond the grave — should indeed conquer all. (MK)

DOCUMENTARIES

Pablo’s Hippos: Colombia’s cocaine demigod Pablo Escobar used his massive fortune to assemble a wild animal park in his own backyard, and this shows how the country is dealing with migrating hippos and other oddities following Escobar’s 1993 drug-war death. (MK)

Someplace with a Mountain: This tale of island people in Micronesia wins the race to find who global warming is hurting first. Though cut off from the world’s media, the islanders are already dealing with salinity in the soil and eroding coastlines. One sailor works for their salvation. (MK)

Land: After buying what he thinks is a piece of paradise, Julian Pinder finds himself amid the resort-developing rush of southwestern Nicaragua. He gets behind the camera to find out who’s good, who’s bad, and how nationalistic politics affects it all. (MK)

Troubadours: Using the James Taylor/Carole King reunion show at The Troubadour in West Hollywood as a center of gravity, this superbly crafted rock ’n’ roll roll call lets us all know how everyone from David Crosby and Jackson Browne to Elton John and Steve Martin got their start. (MK)

Nostalgia for the Light

Nostalgia for the Light: Outer and inner space collide in this ponderous analysis of the Atacama Desert in Chile, where astronomers look to the stars, archaeologists search the soil, and philosophers of all sorts expound on what it means to be Chilean in the post-Pinochet era. (MK)

Darwin: Isolation, escape, depression, violence, drug addiction, gender issues, water rights, loneliness, and California mining history collide in this profile of the desolate Death Valley desert town where 35 people live in tenuous peace.(MK)

Exporting Raymond: Is it true that Everybody Loves Raymond? Not exactly as we do in America, as television director Phil Rosenthal finds out when he’s asked to convert the hit sitcom into a Russian series. It’s a lesson in patience, perseverance, and production pain. (MK)

We Still Live Here: In their quest to revive their ancestor’s language, the Wampanoag people of New England find allies and inspiration everywhere in award-winning documentarian Anne Makepeace’s latest film, in which the value of dead languages is found to be infinite. (MK)

Crazy Wisdom: Its title referring to a Buddhist notion of outrageous spirituality, this portrait of Tibetan-monk-turned-hippie-guru Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche — who founded Naropa University and the Shambhala Meditation Centers — uncovers a wondrously controversial life full of sex, drunkenness, and insight. (MK)

Phunny Business: A Black Comedy: Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, and today’s other hottest black comics got their start in a now defunct Chicago club called All Jokes Aside, and this slickly produced doc is a portrait of that place and era, meanwhile shining a bright light on the Windy City’s dirty racial politics. (MK)

With My Own Two Wheels: Santa Barbara golden boy Jacob Seigel-Boettner’s examination of how bicycles are changing lives from Zambia to Milpas Street covers a lot of impressive international ground and shows everyone that this young filmmaker can easily become a documentarian to be reckoned with. (MK)

East × West

Patisserie: Coin de Rue: This unexpected story of a French pastry shop in Tokyo has all the secrets of a monastery — it’s a Shaolin Temple for cake makers. Not just about indulgences, however, the film delves deep into the psychology of following passion: Is family more important than milles-feuilles artistry? Patisserie says you need both. (DJP)

No Doubt: This Korean film is about a child gone missing and how that induces utter anguish in the village and her father, who learns that a registered sex offender saw her last. Though the conclusion veers into melodrama, the narrative points out how truth requires careful perception. (DJP)

The Fire of Conscience

The Fire of Conscience: Dante Lam’s Hong Kong police drama opens with mind-blowing bullet-shot freeze-frames, and then — bathed in Blade Runner green tones — concerns a battle between grenade-wielding thugs, corrupt narco-cops, and a brutal yet fair cop named Captain Manfred who, at one point, fends off an onslaught while delivering a baby in a building afire. (DJP)

1,778 Stories of Me and My Wife: Japan’s preeminent actors Yuko Takeuchi and Tsuyoshi Kusanagi star in this true-story film about a science-fiction writer who composed a story a day for his cancer-stricken wife, both as hopeful cure and as solace for himself. Much too long, but filled with whimsical detail. (DJP)

Women in Temptation

Eastern Bloc

Women in Temptation: Funny and sexy, though touched with wistful glimpses of impermanence, this Czech hit showcases three generations of beautiful Serbian women — wild grandma, staid mom, and hippieish daughter — in a sex roundelay that keeps you guessing ’til the end about who gets which boyfriend. (DJP)

Just Between Us: Starring Miki Manojlović (an alternate-universe Walter Matthau) in a brilliantly scripted tale of two Croatian brothers living up to the legacy of their randy artist father, here the line between joyous sexuality and heartbreaking unfaithfulness keeps blurring. (DJP)

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle: Romania’s striking offering slowly ropes you in and then snaps tight as we follow a brutish, dour, but moody brooder in minimum-security prison quite near his release. As discontent rises, it’s met with absurd romantic flourishes, and we become captive. (DJP)

To the Maxxx

Downhill: The Bill Johnson Story: The words “ski to die” are tattooed on Bill Johnson’s bicep, and you’ll soon understand why. Radical, in-your-face, and flagrantly fearless, Johnson emerged from a quasi-criminal and mostly anonymous childhood in the Pacific Northwest in 1984 to become the first American man to win a gold medal in Olympic downhill skiing. But his life became a wipeout of epic proportions. (ES)

The Westsiders: Drugs, death, and violence loom over this dark, stormy, and surf-saturated tale of Santa Cruz’s most celebrated surfers: Jason “Ratboy” Collins, Shawn “Barney” Barron, and Darryl “Flea” Virostko. No stranger to quality surf-porn, Santa Barbara-based director Josh Pomer proves more than adequate in the documentary department in showcasing a story that the mainstream surf media mostly ignored. (ES)

A Deeper Shade of Blue: Surf moviemakers don’t come much better than Jack McCoy, and, after a four-year wait, his highly anticipated saltwater soul-searching epic — which takes his storytelling chops and standout footage to a new level — premieres in our backyard. The hi-def and thoughtfully nutritious ’zine-styled film celebrates both the roots and current reality of the surfing good life, and features a “water scooter” that delivers some of the singularly most impressive surf footage ever seen. (ES)

Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist

Reel Nature

Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist: Filmmaker Peter Brown creates an exciting and often wryly funny portrait of eco-pirate Captain Paul Watson, who has spent the past 30 years confronting “environmental bad guys” who partake in illegal fishing, whaling, and killing of marine animals. Whether or not you agree with Watson’s “aggressive nonviolence” tactics, it’s impossible not to applaud the results of his vigilante efforts. (MD)

Bohemia — A Year in the Wetlands: Middle Ages monks living in Bohemia took a swampland and created 500 artificial ponds to be used as carp fisheries. Four centuries later, the carp are thriving, but vast oak forests have also grown around the waters, providing a safe haven for myriad wildlife. Witness the four seasons in this serene, visually stunning film. (MD)

The Zambezi Program: This two-parter follows southern Africa’s Zambezi River from its high wetland source until it splinters into a delta at the Indian Ocean. The beautiful film shows how the lives of the indigenous people and a variety of wild creatures are dictated by the Zambezi’s ebb and flow. (MD)

Spanish/Latin American Cinema

The Colors of the Mountain: How do Colombian villagers and their young children on the frontlines of a decades-long drug war navigate the political minefield between paramilitaries, narco­traffickers, and government forces? Not easily, as this exquisitely told narrative reveals. (MK)

The Tenants

The Tenants: When noisy, rowdy, and dangerous neighbors move into the house next door, our Brazilian protagonist must find out how to stand up for his family, defend the neighborhood he helped build, and maintain his middle-class sense without putting everyone in harm’s way. (MK)

By Day and By Night: This cinematic tour de force out of Mexico blends geometric cinematography, futuristically strained family ties, and an overpopulation solution of making humans live in day and night “shifts” into a science fiction masterpiece. (MK)

Focus on Quebec

A Life Begins: Young Charles Antoine Perreault shines as Etienne, an adolescent boy who adores, and then loses, his doctor father to an overdose. There’s a lightheartedness to even the darkest of moments, aided in no small part by director Michel Monty’s dazzling, slightly saturated 1960s landscape. (AC)

Piché: Sky and Ground: This grizzly true-life tale of Toronto pilot Robert Piché, who miraculously lands a doomed flight to Lisbon, uses playful chronological devices to bring us through Piché’s heroic present and troubled past, ultimately arriving at a portrait of a man marred by his former indiscretions. (AC)

Heart of Auschwitz: This documentary begins with an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor who donates her heart—a harrowingly made origami birthday card, created within Auschwitz’s factory walls—to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, where it takes on a life of its own and reconnects a group of survivors, 60 years later. (AC)

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