The SBIFF opening night film Charged — only the second documentary to open the Festival since its founding — was a great choice for several reasons. For one, Phillip Baribeau’s documentary, about a chef named Eduardo Garcia who suffers a devastating, 2,400-volt electric shock and, shortly after, the emergence of testicular cancer, was an uncommonly uplifting and inspiring one. In the film, we watch as Garcia smiles through operations on his grisly charred chest, charms us as he maneuvers life with his new prosthetic hook, and affirms that despite his struggles, he would much rather be alive in the hospital than dead. Garcia is a charismatic character, and his gratitude toward his caregivers and toward life itself is not only touching, but humbling.
What’s more, it’s also a compelling human drama, with long-term girlfriend and true friend, Jennifer Jane, who remains by his side throughout. Their relationship goes through its own shocks and upsets, and she is equally an inspiring character in her compassion and the strength of her persistence.
But perhaps more moving than the film itself were festival director Roger Durling’s timely remarks about the film. Mentioning Garcia’s Mexican father, Durling recalled growing up in Panama, when at times he felt “like a completely outcast,” the movies offered him solace: “I found refuge in the movies. We were all equal in the dark — no one knew my sexuality or the color of my skin.” He moved to America “after I died at 12 years old, to this country seeking refuge, to this place you come after you die, a place of second chances… I am a foreigner, and I am an American.” He praised cinema’s power to “build bridges.” “Artists tear down walls,” he affirmed.
Baribeau thanked their supporters and KickStarter backers, and thanked Garcia and Jane, saying, “Thank you for entrusting us to tell this beautiful story.” Producer Dennis Aig expressed his gratitude to the Arlington Theatre and the people of Santa Barbara, saying, “We are very honored guests in this beautiful house of yours.”