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


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. avenue%20montaigne.jpg 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
,” 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


(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.)

Lost Souls

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
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.)

12:08 East
of Bucharest

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.)

The United Gates of America

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


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
, 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


I caught this Australian aboriginal film right after Golden
, 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.)

My Party

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. my%20scary%20girl.jpg 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


(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
, and other movies and TV shows) was on hand to
introduce it and do a Q&A afterward. Stevens%20Fisher.JPG 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
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


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
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. ahlaam%202.jpg The story is meaningful, the execution
solid, and the message not getting to enough Americans. Josef
Woodard also gives this one a nod
. (It has no more screenings planned.)

The Killer Within

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.)

Taylor of Beverly Hills

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

Living with

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.)

Darius Goes West: The
Roll of His Life

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.)

Taking Guns from

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


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