One of the pithiest summations of a recurring theme in this year’s SBIFF was articulated last night by a legendary figure who was unadvertised. That would be the enigmatic William Hurt, who, in his presentation of the Montecito Award to the great Isabelle Huppert, expressed his appreciation for the hosting organization. “This is the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, not the Isolationist Festival.”
Touche. The international aspect of the festival, and issues of government repression, immigrant-phobia and other hot-button topics make this year’s festival seem especially relevant and globally generous in outlook. Hurt went on to heap accolades on Huppert, and cited the importance of French cultural relations, in the film business and society, quoting French playwright and poet Pierre de la Montagne and Jimmy Cagney along the way. The recipient, an ever-articulate and thoughtful presence onstage, as she is captivating on screen, and looking smashing in a sparkling ensemble, seemed genuinely moved by Hurt’s speech, admitting, “I never thought I’d hear Montagne in Montecito.” Hmm, film title alert?
Speaking of cinematic voices from other lands, two of the strong films caught in yesterday’s schedule were from “over there” in old and older Europe — the Montenegro/Serbian film The Black Pin and Italy’s fascinating and refreshingly unusual/slightly experimental Indivisible, both well worth seeking out. Writer-director Ivan Marinovic has created a charming, funny, and bittersweet slice of Balkan village life with The Black Pin — so named for a provincial ceremony by which a witch is identified. A woman deemed by some as a witch has died, and the pending funeral, along with a real estate scheme subplot and a salty-tongued priest, keeps the screen buzzing in a contemporary-meets-folkoric way.
Getting an easy, sound bite-style fix on writer-director Edoardo de Angelis’ Indivisible is tricky business. His vibrant and sometimes wild tale of young conjoined twins (the amazing sisters Angela and Marianna Fontana, both coming together to create one of this festival’s tour de force performances) forced into show biz (or a sideshow avenue thereof) works a feat of cine-magic — compassion for their plight and possibility of separation to their opportunistic father’s dismay, while openly paying tribute to Fellini along the way (especially the tipsy odes the human tragic-circus of 8 ½ and La Dolce Vita). In a festival that hasn’t seen much in the way of innovative, wild style filmmaking, Indivisible stands apart, tugging at both heartstrings and film geekdom.
For those who missed the extravaganza musical event known as Seraphonium, at the Marjorie Luke Theater in late 2015, the “next best thing” scenario is now officially available, courtesy of Byl Carruthers’ engaging, multi-camera documentary on the show, Seraphonium Live!. The kindly mastermind is the Montecitan Monte Schultz, novelist, son of Charles, and now songwriter-musician-situationist whose old-fashioned pop-folk-country-rock songbook written over the past 40 years was finally manifested in a polished album at various local studios, with many of Santa Barbara’s finest musicians and producers. Singers including favorite Santa Barbarans such as the pure-toned Shawn Thies, the blues-textured Tina Schlieske, ever-soulful Lois Mahalia, and versatile Adam Rudolph, and a large, nimble band at the ready.
In a packed Metro theater yesterday afternoon, a crowd — well-stocked with many of the musicians involved in the recording and concert — took it all in, and vivid film production values gave a “you are there” immediacy that naturally encouraged applause after each of the diverse tunes in the set.
Another locally based filmmaker, Leslie Zemeckis, has made intriguing documentarian aplomb on the left-of-conventional subjects of the Burlesque and “sideshow freaks,” with an affectionate gaze. Now comes her next subject, Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer, which had its world premiere at the Lobero last night. At the center of the film is the remarkable tale of Mabel Stark, a pioneering figure in ranks of female “big cat” trainers starting in the 1910s, and whose last long chapter, from the ’30s through her firing in the ’60s, was spent entertaining and caring for her animals at the mythic Jungleland in Thousand Oaks. But Zemeckis wisely, and deftly, pulls back the lens to cover the culture of circus life, a once-thriving aspect of one of her passions, as she said in a post-screening Q&A, “early American pop culture.”
Richly textured with vintage footage and interviews with survivors in the field (including several other female trainers), Mabel, Mabel pulls us into a parallel universe, where our protagonist has devoted her life to working with her beloved tigers, insisting, like a mantra, “it’s matchless thrill, and life and without it, wouldn’t isn’t worth living.”
What to See File: Of the films on today’s (Thursday’s) docket, I can recommend: Indivisible, The Black Pin, Land of Mine, Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer, an evening at the Arlington with “the Dude,” aka Jeff Bridges, in the wake of his marvelous role in Hell or High Water.