Avid and/or addictive film festivalgoers in Santa Barbara have been duly trained, and possibly spoiled, by living in a city with a world-class film festival. They also know the inherent bittersweet sensation when the annual winter Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) calls it a wrap. But booster shots of film fest lore and content have been popping up in public.
Thankfully, SBIFF has been making inroads to keeping its presence on the cultural calendar year-round, with Wednesday screenings at Plaza de Oro, special screenings and celebrity visitations in the Cinema Society series, the recent acquisition of the Riviera Theatre (see last week’s Santa Barbara Independent story), and now the continuing saga of the mini-film festivals under the band The Wave Film Festival.
In its second year of operation, the Wave phenom — French and Latin and Spanish films last year, and this week’s Pan-Asia festival (running May 11-15), at the festival’s newly announced official theater home up at the Riviera — is one event in what may become a quarterly occasion. The Wave festival director, Mickey Duzdevich, also a senior programmer at SBIFF, asserted that in putting together the compact mini-fests, “we just try to find the best films possible — films that allow audience members to travel the world without leaving their own backyard,” he said. We try to make sure there is something for everyone. We want action, drama, romance, comedy — anything else you can think of. “It’s hard to find 11 amazing films to group together, but as long as each audience member finds one film out of the group that they can’t get out of their head and want to talk about it, then it’s a job well done.”
Films making The Wave grade come from different sources and angles, including as offshoots of the SBIFF mother ship. The Pan-Asia selection offers some equal time balance after this year’s SBIFF overall roster didn’t allow for an official Asian sidebar. One of this weekend’s films, the Chinese crime flick Mr. Six, was intended to be shown at the fest, but legal issues caused it to be pulled at the 11th hour. Once a certain scene was re-cut, the film was able to make the trans-Pacific trip to Santa Barbara for this weekend.
I was able to screen a trio of films from South Korea playing at The Wave, attesting to the stated diversity principle in the programming. Director Kwon Oh-kwang’s Collective Invention shifts deftly from dark satire to melancholy in its outlandish, metaphorical tale of a mutant “fish man” subjected to medical experiments, public scorn, and freakish curiosity to Frankenstein-ish narrative ends. That film comes from a radically different place than the gritty, sometimes histrionic but also gripping corrupt-cop caper The Chronicles of Evil, from director Beak Woon-hak.
Those with more open-minded “art house” leanings are advised to catch Right Now, Wrong Then, a slow and contemplative yet unexpectedly seductive and structurally unusual film from Korean writer/director Hong Sang-soo (responsible for the strangely beguiling film Woman Is the Future of Man, which played at SBIFF a decade ago, and stirred conversation and small puffs of controversy). In this film about film work, a Seoul-based “art film” director’s visit to Suwon for a screening/Q&A and his wooing of a local woman is literally presented in double-vision fashion, its two hour-long accounts exploring the elasticity of fate and the malleability of “takes” and storytelling — and life itself — in arriving at a film’s finished form. It’s the kind of film best seen on a looming screen, without a pause button at the ready.
Implicit in the expanding public presence and agenda of SBIFF — from the main event early in the year outward — is a commitment to keeping cinema available in its intended form, on the big screen, in darkened rooms in our city. You can try this at home, and the lure of in-house streaming and ever-improving artistic standards of “mainstream” television has taken its toll on film as a public experience, but “We feel the community enjoys what we offer, and now we can provide even more,” Duzdevich said. “There will always be people who enjoy the comfort of their own home, but I don’t see the theatergoing experience dying out any time soon. It might evolve but will never be gone. There is something special about going into a room with others that share your excitement for film and experiencing it together. It’s an experience you can’t get at home.”
SBIFF’s The Wave Film Festival runs Wednesday-Sunday, May 11-15, at the Riviera Theatre, 2044 Alameda Padre Serra. For more information, see sbiff.org