SBIFF: Day 1

Klieg Lights and Candlelit Ideals

2017 Santa Barbara International Film Festival Opening Night at the Arlington Theatre
Paul Wellman

There has been a buzz around town of eager film festival-goers hoping to find an escape route from the ugly realities of the day (well, The Administration) for all or part of this 32nd annual festival’s 11 days, to sink into the screening HQ of the Metropolitan Four and special events at the Arlington, Lobero, and elsewhere as a way to avoid the seeming meltdown of American values in our White House. Of course, no real escape is possible, partly because the historically all-important international component of festival — including from countries deemed demonic by Trump (incidental note, check out the Iranian film The Salesman, screening today, Thursday, at 2:40, and later in the fest).

At the opening night ceremony, longtime executive director Roger Durling wisely tapped into the zeitgeist and collective angst, without naming names or controversies, by referring to his own trouble upbringing as an alienated Panamanian, who found his calling in the United States — “the place of second chances.”

He addressed the nearly sold-out Arlington throng, saying “you are 2,200 people, and you are all equal, in the dark…I am a foreigner and I am an American. Film festivals build bridges between cultures. There are no walls here…artists tear down walls. We, as citizens, can do the same.” He then invited the crowd to pick up candles in the foyer after the film and to create a candlelit procession down State to the big opening party at Paseo Nuevo post-screening.

Edgardo Garcia from the movie Charged on the red carpet of the 2017 Santa Barbara International Film Festival Opening Night at the Arlington Theatre
Paul Wellman

Charged, made over eight years by director Phillip Baribeau, proved to be an ideal and inspiring opener to the festival, a remarkable tale of a resilient outdoorsman and chef, Montanan Eduardo Garcia, who survived a 2,400 volt shock in the woods after stabbing a dead bear obscuring a random power source. The film, beautifully made and graced with a sensitive score by Joachim Cooder, follows his healing, with the support of his guardian angel and learning to live with a prosthetic limb, and a post-accident path that found him becoming a nationally televised “Bionic chef.” As one more inclined to fully appreciate life, he has become a motivational speaker of sorts in the process (as we caught a glimpse of after the screening, on the Arlington stage). What makes the film tick is the natural charisma and positivity of the man in focus, and his easy way in front of a camera.

As bear-related docs go, welcome to the other, more life-affirming side of Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man.

What to See File: Looking at the strong film program for Day 1 of the fest, I can vouch for the strength of films from the Nordic sidebar, with Iceland’s Cruelty and Norway’s Revenge both blending dazzling landscapes and sometimes gritty thriller/intrigue narratives. Another film I previously screened, the Spanish sci-fi film Orbiter 9 is a pleasantly head-twisting future shock tale.

<em>I Am Not Your Negro</em>

I’m headed to the Czech film The Teacher in the early “breakfast club” slot, the John Coltrane doc Chasing Trane (narrated by Denzel Washington, who is being feted with a tribute at the Arlington tonight), the acclaimed Canadian animated film Window Horses (free, at the Lobero at 2 p.m. — a slot to watch), the James Baldwin-related film I Am Not Your Negro (auspiciously timed with Black History Month), and destiny and word-of-mouth knows what else. Such is the way of the SBIFF gods.


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