Correct us if we’re wrong, but something unique and unprecedented went down in Santa Barbara on Tuesday night. At 7:30 p.m., in the film festival compound of the Metro Four, a well-packed house was on hand to catch the world premiere screening of the documentary The Sun Came Out, about the “7 World” Oxfam benefit album project in Auckland, New Zealand, organized by Neil (Crowded House) Finn. Then, in a reel-to-real transformation, the party headed up the street to SOhO, where Finn played a generous set with his four-piece band (including ambi-moodstress Lisa Germano, bassist/guitarist Sebastian Steinberg, and drummer Wally Ingram).
A genial buzz of excitement could be sensed at both locales, including a more excitable “whoo-“ inclined crowd at the screening. The excitement factor also wriggled its way to the top of the creative chain. As the film’s director, Simon Mark Brown — who used to make TV commercials — told the crowd before the screening, “Neil told me ‘you can bring cameras in, but I don’t want to see them. We shot the shit out of it (the recording sessions) for three days, edited it for a year, and finished it last week. I haven’t even seen it on the big screen yet, so it’s a world premiere for me, too.”
At SOhO, the Finn fun swerved around songs of his own and of his bandmates, and even featured another Santa Barbara first (correct us if we’re wrong), as the kindly Finn started interviewing SOhO soundman Alan about his life, over the p.a. for all to hear. That’s curveball, 360-degree entertainment.
FILMS MOTHER COULD LOVE (IF HIP CINEPHILE): By cosmic coincidence, two of the finest films at the festival are all about mothers, though they hail from very different places — emotionally and geo-culturally. The South Korean film Mother is a slow-brewing but compelling murder mystery, seamlessly realized and deeper than first impressions suggest.
I Killed My Mother is the sparkling jewel of the “Focus on Quebec” subseries in the festival program, made resourcefully on a shoestring by 19-year-old wunderkind Xavier Dolan. Odd camera placements, inventive filmic devices, and clever editing, wittily bickering mother-and-son back-and-forth between Xavier as actor and his actual mother, Anne Dolan, adds up to an indie miracle of a film. Besides being a new twist on the teen angst angle, this is an instantly classic case of the high art capable on a low budget, when vision is intact.
THE VIEW AT MIDWEEK: After a couple dozen films screened so far, at festival’s midpoint, here is one humble reporter’s list of best-of-fest… so far:
Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories (Iran; Shahrma Mokri)
Vincere (Marco Bellocchio)
Zero (Poland; Pawel Borowski)
Kelin (Kazakhstan; Yermek Tursonov)
I Killed My Mother (Quebec: Xavier Dolan)
Mother (South Korea: Joon-ho Bong)
Letters to Father Jakob (Finland; Klaus Haro)
Honeymoons (Serbia; Goran Paskaljevic)
CLARIFICATION: Regarding my post yesterday about the festival’s “playing into the supposed Oscar-eager wrestling match between ex-spouses” by including both Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron, the comment referred to the natural coincidence rather than any conscious scheme on the festival’s part. Naturally, prominent film folks and Oscar hopefuls will be ubiquitous on the public front around this time, and that high profile public front now includes the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.