IT’S MORE THAN GLAM: Okay, you’ve got your movie stars at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival starting today. You’ve got premieres, glamour, red carpets, paparazzi, parties, and lights flashing in the skies above the Arlington Theatre.

But for me, the real anticipation comes with the surprise stuff: the docs, the panels, and the brilliant little movies strung out like a necklace of cinematic pearls.

Barney Brantingham

By docs, I mean documentaries, the red meat of the fest. These include the much-anticipated Nostalgia for the Light, Patricio Guzmán’s “breathtaking exploration of the cosmos, the desert, and the disappeared” — the latter being Chileans murdered during the brutal Pinochet regime.

And then there’s Pablo’s Hippos, “the absurd and paradoxical” story of Colombia’s struggle with drug trafficking, spotlighting a drug czar and his imported animals. Closer to home, Swiss-made Darwin is about an isolated community at the end of a battered road in Death Valley, dirt-poor and 1.4 acres in size. Gabe Rosenn has put together a short doc based on the late Santa Barbara publisher Noel Young’s book Hot Tubs, focusing on the Mountain Drive tribe back in the 1960s. Plenty of naked flesh, plus a few (clothed) shots of Rock Hudson during the filming of Seconds. To be shown at the Metro 4 Tuesday, February 1, at 8 p.m., and Wednesday, February 2, at 10:30 p.m., according to Frank Frost.

And Santa Barbara’s Mike deGruy will be back with Reel Nature, a series that includes The Last Lions, about a mom and her cubs fighting for survival in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. I’ve been to Botswana and hunger to see the delta.

Then there’s the annual Fund for Santa Barbara’s Social Justice Award for documentaries. Nominees include Land, which delves into the tumultuous topics of land ownership and development, labor, tourism, ownership, and imperialism in modern Nicaragua. Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist, another nominee, is about the whale wars you may have seen on Animal Planet. It features action on the open seas to thwart Japanese factory ships killing leviathans, as well as tangles with drift netters and illegal seal hunters. (I told you there’ll be raw meat.)

Film aficionados are also looking forward to the panels where directors, writers, and producers take the Lobero stage to be quizzed and quiz one another. Writers go first, on Saturday, January 29, at 11 a.m. That same day at 2 p.m., it’ll be Women in the Biz. On Sunday at 11 a.m., it’s Movers and Shakers, where top producers discuss their craft. On Saturday, February 5, directors, normally a boisterous group, take the Lobero stage at 11 a.m.

BILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION: After the billion-dollar Delta spy-in-the-sky satellite blasted off from Vandenberg the other day, touted to be able to detect the make and model of an earthbound auto, someone asked: “Can it find Bin Laden?”

RICE’S WAR: Condoleezza Rice, cheerleader for George W. Bush’s wrongheaded Iraq War, will be speaking at Westmont College’s President’s Day Breakfast, March 4 at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort. You’ll recall that in hyping the war, she warned of a possible “mushroom cloud” from nonexistent weapons of destruction.

WRITERS CONFAB REBORN: Fledgling authors are rejoicing not only that the Santa Barbara Writers Conference resumes June 18-23 after a two-year hiatus, but that it’s at a place with a b-a-r. The beachside Mar Monte sports not only the Bistro Eleven Eleven restaurant but also a genuine bar where the ink-stained clan can huddle, swill, swap book-deal stories, and start or end romances. (Everything goes into the next book, natch.) When the conference was held at Westmont a few years ago, writers complained both that the campus was hard to find and, more importantly, that there was no watering hole, so necessary to lubricate the creative juices.

Monte Schulz, son of Charles Schulz, the late Peanuts cartoonist and longtime conference headliner, bought the conclave out of bankruptcy last year.

Guest speakers will include thriller author Clive Cussler and bestselling Santa Barbara novelist T. C. Boyle. More information at

LITERACY FUN: Santa Barbara’s Junior League will be raising money to benefit youth literacy at its annual Literacy Gala on March 5 at the Coral Casino. For more info, visit

TOOWOOMBA TO YOU: So how could anyone raised in Toowoomba, Queensland, become famous? Ask Geoffrey Rush, who’ll be honored by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the Arlington on Monday, January 31. Onstage with him will be his The King’s Speech costar Colin Firth. Both were nominated for Oscars on Tuesday, January 25. Also being honored at the festival will be others in the cast, including Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobs, and Claire Bloom, along with director Tom Hooper. (Rush somehow survived four months sharing an apartment in 1979 with fellow Aussie Mel Gibson.)

SARAH’S KEY: I thought the first half of Tatiana de Rosnay’s novel Sarah’s Key was riveting, focusing on a brave 10-year-old girl caught up in a Nazi roundup in Paris. But the rest had too much of a romance-novel flavor, despite the serious topic. Roger Durling, who heads the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, assures me that tonight’s (Thu., Jan. 27) festival kickoff movie of the same name eliminates the flaws. Kristin Scott Thomas stars. At the Arlington.


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