Wednesday at SBIFF could be unofficially considered local artists day, in a manner of speaking. Three documentaries, though wildly different, took in the lives and work — and death — of Santa Barbara-based artists: celebrated jazz tenor saxist Charles Lloyd in the doc The Monk and the Mermaid, videographer Larry Nimmer’s voyeuristic but perversely fascinating Michael Jackson: the Untold Story of Neverland, with insider’s access, and Justin Rowe’s fine Crazy Art.
On the truly local local artist front, Crazy Art offers a fascinating portrait of three art-devoted schizophrenics, Rodger Casier, Trinaty Lopez Wakefield, and Lesley Grogan, who use artistic expression as a means of therapy, quelling inner voices, and as a way of life. Guided by writer and narrator J.T. Turner (head of the mental health agency Phoenix of Santa Barbara), the artists speak articulately, openly, and movingly about their struggles, and about the possibility of transcendence — even if sometimes fleeting — through making and thinking about art.
Shot mostly in Europe, the latest Lloyd doc covers familiar ground, but brings us up to date with Lloyd’s newest projects — his fine new quartet and “Sangam” trio — and the highlight is a short, typically pretzel-logical Ornette Coleman interview. Nimmer worked as a videographer for the Jackson trial defense, so his perspective inclines towards Jackson’s innocence, as do we, especially after the awe-inspiring doc of late last year, This is It, which showed the world, posthumously, what genius Jackson was still made of up until his death last June. Peripherally, Nimmer’s film reminds us that as Santa Barbarans, in some way, we share in a kind of collective shame, for a local witch hunt which no doubt helped lead to Jackson’s early death. He should be performing, and coming home to Neverland, as we speak.
WARTIME DURING FESTIVALTIME: Those seeking in the film festival a pleasant 10-day escape route from prevailing realities may find themselves facing up to more than they bargained for. As usual, the current, generally strong, and relevant slate of international films includes a few titles from the militarized zone of the Middle East, and brings not only aspects of the war home, but valuable empathetic slices of life there.
From Iraq itself, the film Kick Off is of humble means, artistically and production-wise, but is one of this festival’s most important films, in terms of offering a view of life in that embattled zone, from the Iraqi perspective. A tale of a decrepit, debris and livestock-strewn soccer arena in Kirkuk, and the mix of tragedy and hopes for reconciliation through sport, the film is funny, sad and revealing, by turns, and may be a blow for anyone hoping to demonize the “enemy.”
True Noon, from Tajikistan, tells the tale of wartime tension in its own sweet way, mixing the colorful splendor of village life with the incursion of ominous forces, represented simply, by barbed wire fences and landmines lying in wait. Another war-imperiled mountain village is the point of reference and point of departure in the Turkish film I Saw the Sun, in which victims of the Kurdish conflict are forced to evacuate. The film affectingly follows two displaced families’ separate paths to hard immigrant realities in the contrasting outposts of Istanbul and Bergen, Norway.
Another tale of alienation and uprooting in a time of brewing military conflict, and told in a beautifully cinematic way, is the Serbian film Honeymoons, yet another strong entry in the so-far unerring “Eastern Bloc” section of SBIFF programming. Set at a time when the Kosovo conflict was about to erupt, lavish Serbian and Albanian weddings are juxtaposed with festering ethnic tensions and border incidents which become dramatic and metaphoric fodder in a subtly gripping film. Festival veterans may call the harrowing film screened years back, Vukovar, jedna prica, a Romeo and Juliet-esque tale of star-crossed and ethnicity-crossed lovers in Bosnia — but minus the shattering violence.
TO SCREEN OR NOT TO SCREEN: Many of the films espied at the festival will not be coming to a theater near us. Many of them will not be televised. Various forces are at work in changing the landscape and big (or small) screen forums for cinema access. Some SBIFF films, of course, can be counted on for an early return, though, and one of those is Chloe. Brought to us by the good folks at Montecito Pictures Co. (including Ivan Reitman and Joe Medjuck as producers) and distributed by SONY classics, Chloe is the latest sleek and mysterious psycho-sexual twister game from Canadian Atom Egoyan. The sexual math gets complicated between members of a Toronto family (including Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson) and a beautiful and cunning call girl (Amanda Seyfried, also just seen in the surprisingly not-bad Dear John, but with her clothes on).
Last night, Moore herself, in a fetching dress, was feted at the Arlington, on the heels of her fabulous turn in A Single Man, but also in anticipation of her fine — and sexually candid — performance in the soon-to-be released Chloe. As the actress said during the tribute, in acting “you have the responsibility to be as present as possible. You want to leave yourself emotionally available, so what happens in a performance just happens in the moment.” And when she manages to get a role worthy of her talents, that philosophy prevails.