As the closing night shindig drew SBIFF ’13 — the 28th annual — to its logical and inevitable conclusion on Sunday night, with the warm afterglow sensation of knowing that the general quality of its “I” factor, the all-important “international” quotient, was a few degrees hotter this year.
SBIFF domo Roger Durling gave a heartfelt appreciation in this, his 10th year as an inspired and inspiring executive festival director, summing it up by saying, “I’m your humble servant and deeply grateful.” We also got another in a series of clips from films featuring the late SBIFF mainstay, nature filmmaker Mike deGruy, a series which also included a funny bloopers mini-reel, which I caught only on the final day.
Sunday’s closing film, director Rowan Athale’s Wasteland, is a reasonably good British crime time thriller, a sort of twist on the Usual Suspects-style structure of an elaborate jailhouse confession retracing the caper gone by.
And the festival competition winners were… the touching and artful elder love saga Coming of Age for best international feature, with Austrian codirectors Gerhard Ertl and Sabine Hiebler on hand to accept (and compliment the Arlington’s majesty), and the, ahem, appetizingly fine food culture doc Spinning Plates in the Audience Choice Award slot, with director Joseph Levy proudly noting the packed Lobero crowd at its final screening. Nothing like a large, appreciative throng in a crowd theater to affirm the goodness of a film finally gone public.
SHAMELESS SELF-REFERENCE DEPT.: Well, after having covering SBIFF for The Santa Barbara Independent, rather obsessively and sometimes self-destructively, since the very first model, 28 years ago, this year marked a first: I actually appeared on the big screen, if briefly, rather than just lurking the shadows of the audience quarters of the theater. This screen op, appearing as myself but reading scripted lines (however woodenly — thumbs down-ish on that dude’s performance) in the ambitious and funny “10-10-10” film Sunset on Cabrillo Boulevard, directed (kindly) by Kevin Huang and wittily written by Jeffrey Lovelace.
For those unawares, the now thankfully long-running “10-10-10” — 10 years old, in fact — is a brilliant project that puts the means of production in the hands of creative and film-minded young student filmmakers in town. Although the preproduction phase is extensive, and involves mentors and prep, it’s basically a guerilla-filmmaking, deadline-driven project, numerical in nature. Ten 10-minute films are made in 10 days, and the results are often full of resourceful can-do and inventive solutions, as seen in this year’s crop, screened before a packed house at the Lobero Theatre on Sunday afternoon. On Sunday night, the winning entries, Santa Barbara High School’s Told You, directed by young Patrick Hall, and the Brooks Institute-connected Sunset on Cabrillo Boulevard, was laid out for all the Arlington to see on closing night.
As for my own cameo in the latter flicklet, my advice to the guy onscreen: nice try, but don’t give up your day job.
INTERNATIONAL STARS: Among the strong niches in the international matrix of the programming this year, the Latin American section was especially rewarding, if perhaps lacking in the light and fluffy factor. The stars of the sector may have been the historically charged and cinematic No, the first Oscar Foreign Film nomination from Chile and the Argentine film Clandestine Childhood, a child’s eye view of the ear of the “disappeared.”
But in the humbler margins of the selections came the understated poetry La Sirga and the rustic and feminist-lined saga Choco, both from Colombia, and the stark, dark, and compelling Mexican film The Precocious and Brief Life of Sabine Rivas, about the life-and-dignity-are-cheap realities of a border town in the Honduras. That film, too, addresses the plight of women in a culture on the edge, where a culture of violence and corruption and desperation to flee sully the otherwise natural beauty of riverfront life.
CINESONIC FUN: For the last two years, there has been a new kid niche in town, the “CineSonic” sidebar, ushering a welcome flow of music-related films courtesy of programming director Michael Albright’s vision. This year’s selection, at least the titles I was able to catch, rose to a higher level than last year and contributed at least one of the great films of the festival — Dave Grohls’ Sound City — to the programming mix.
But I was also dazzled by the inspired and strange Finnish film, Jukka Kärkkäinen’s The Punk Syndrome, an endearing rock doc about a punk band comprised of mentally challenged and true blue musicians. Even more inspiring, at least to us diehard John Fahey fans, was the first official Fahey doc, a marvel of In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey, a film directed by Canadian James Cunningham. Fahey, a great American original and eccentric, is much more than a progenitor of the instrumental acoustic guitar craze (Leo Kottke’s first albums were recorded for Fahey’s indie label Takoma), but a restless artist with a serious musicological maverick’s savvy and curiosity.
It was great to hear Pete Townsend waxing poetic about the man, although it would have been nice to hear something from Thurston Moore, one of the big late-career-phase Fahey fetishists. Really, though, it’s hard to complain: Cunningham has done a great service by providing his passionate and also visually and atmospherically rich tribute to a great American whose real credit due may still be in the offing.
SBIFF ’13 is a wrap. Long live Santa Barbara’s claim to festival fame.