Scoping Out the Fest

From Mad Max to Marguerite

FROM MAD MAX TO MARGUERITE: Don’t think the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is all celebs, red carpets, and bright lights along State Street.

It’s also a chance to hear actors, screenwriters, directors, and producers talk seriously about their crazy-at-times craft and latest I-can’t-believe-it hit. At the panels you’ll get a chance to throw “What does it take to make it?” questions at them.

Barney Brantingham

Best of all, the February 3-13 orgy offers film buffs features and documentaries from 60 countries, more than enough to tax the eyeballs of even the most ardent movie aficionado.

One that really caught my eye was Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, in which an L.A. screenwriter tries to make sense of strange events going on there and in Vegas. It stars Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, and many more. Meanwhile, Bale has adventures with six alluring women, including his ex-wife played by Blanchett.

Also intriguing is The Assistant, a French-Belgian film involving a driver who accidentally runs down a young man. Nine years later the mother of the man he killed becomes his assistant — and begins to exact her revenge. Get a load of this one: Eva Doesn’t Sleep tells the true story of how the embalmed corpse of Argentina’s former first lady Eva Perón makes a two-decade tour of various cities in Europe and then back to Argentina, where Eva’s body is (gasp!) abducted. It’s enough to make you cry, Argentina.

Of local interest, in The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille, Peter Brosnan explores the set of DeMille’s 1923 silent film, The Ten Commandments, which has been buried in the Guadalupe Dunes since then.

Santa Barbara downhill skateboarders face hostility in the community in the documentary Wheels over Paradise. Paul Mathieu directed.

In Midnight Return, Billy Hayes makes a repeat trip to Turkey, 30 years after going through hell as portrayed in Midnight Express.

The closing film is too often missed by burned-out fest-goers, but don’t miss this one. In Marguerite, set in 1921, a group of music lovers gather in a castle (of course) near Paris. A woman sings but not well. What is a music critic’s reaction? What results is a drama mixed with humor and emotion.

Lots of star tributes are scheduled, but one of the festival’s big events comes next Thursday, February 11, when all five Oscar-nominated directors will take the Arlington Theatre stage. Normally, the directors’ panel is held on a Saturday at the smallish Lobero Theatre, but this star cast gets the spotlight in more ways than one. Being hailed as outstanding directors of the year by the festival are Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant); Tom McCarthy (Spotlight); Adam McKay (The Big Short); Lenny Abrahamson (Room); and George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road).

You can get up close and personal with a panel of producers (what do they do, anyway?) at the Lobero on Saturday, February 6, at 10 a.m., and with a group of screenwriters (it all starts with the words) at the Lobero later that same day at 1 p.m. The Women’s Panel takes place at the Lobero on Saturday, February 13, at 11 a.m.

The films of these luminaries will be around forever, waiting for you on Netflix, but if you don’t catch a compelling foreign film or penetrating documentary here, you may never have another chance.

Take, for instance, Wild Sri Lanka, which peers into the exotic world of a land that somehow harbors the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale, and the smallest, the etruscan shrew.

The festival is not all cleavage and car chases, by any means, as you’ll learn from the Social Justice series during the fest. One sobering film is 10 Billion: What’s on Your Plate?, or how are we going to feed the world’s growing population?

In Huntwatch, the cameras witness the fate of the baby seals in Canada, those who would kill them, and those who would save them. Rebel Citizen portrays two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who died recently. Thank You for Your Service concerns the issue of military veterans coping with the return to civilian life.

And for the kids and adult kids, the fantasy-comedy The Good Dinosaur imagines the monster reptiles and humans living side by side. In other words, what if dinosaurs never became extinct? In the film, Arlo the apatosaurus makes a friend. It shows Saturday, February 13.


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