It seems a good sign, a harbinger of auspicious beginnings, that the first piece of film seen at SBIFF 2011 was a juicy one. While some of the opening night crowd was still lurking about outside the Arlington Theatre, drifting in from the red carpet bag and the klieg light aura outside, the first screening of this year’s intro film splashed onto the screen, at 8:05 p.m. It’s a doozy, one of the freshest and most creative intro pieces yet in the festival’s history, compared to the pleasing, polished, and sometimes generic intros of old.
And who can we thank? Sixteen-year-old wizard Harry Bossert, who had flown in for the night from London, created the animation visuals with Lego figures, set to typically hip and flip music by Parry Gripp (he of Nerf Herder, orchid maestro, current YouTube cause celebre, and one-time columnist for this paper, under the nom de plume Andrew Broomhead). This is carbonated contemporary entertainment, to be seen scores of times over the course of the fest, and that’s okay by us. (You can read a bit more about it here.)
As for the opening night film, it’s abundantly clear that French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s adaptation of the best-seller Sarah’s Key is a cut or two above the typically hum drum opening night fare, and has some powerful aspects going for it, especially as a rare exploration of the sorrows and pities of life during wartime in Vichy France during WWII, and Kirsten Scott Thomas turns in an expectedly fine performance. But the film’s second half takes a serious dive into irritating sentimentality, all the more distressing because of the genuine narrative and emotive strengths of the early passages. It may do well in theaters.
But that’s no matter, really: we’ve grown accustomed to the face of the SBIFF’s schematic of potentially less-than-thrilling openers — and sometimes closers — in usually stark contrast to the riches contained within those boundaries.
Opening night’s other high point was a pre-screening high, when executive director Roger Durling gave a touching and meaningful introduction to the 10-day fete before us. He pointed out that “one of the gifts of democracy is the ability to debate,” and that, contrary to the divisive spirit in American media and public discourse at this moment in history, a “film festival is a utopia — it’s democracy at its finest, a place where ideas can be discussed in a civilized way.”
At film’s end, the procession down State Street began toward Paseo Nuevo, where a “Breathless”-themed shabang awaited. It was, refreshingly, the opening night party we’ve come to enjoy — SBIFF’s party for the people, not at an exclusive Montecito mansion, with free food and free booze (Chopin, of course, now free from the Moet-Hennessy ties of yesteryear), live music near the entrance and, this year, a deejay near the rear. Skimpy dresses and nice jackets were a’plenty, and the vibe was friendly casual.
Let the cinematic games, discussions, and over-indulgence begin! And you can follow it all at independent.com/sbiff.
With a bit of late night reporting from Matt Kettmann.