This Santa Barbara International Film Festival has found multiple ways to celebrate the Oscar-nominated 2021 film The Power of the Dog. First, director Jane Campion showed up twice via video at the Outstanding Directors night and then again on the Writers Panel.
And on Thursday night, the Power sweep continued as Benedict Cumberbatch appeared onstage at the Arlington for one of the prime-time tribute evenings of the fest. Decked in all-black attire and attracting a capacity audience, Cumberbatch traced his story so far and accepted SBIFF’s Cinema Vanguard Award.
“Vanguard” is an apt term for the complex and sexually tangled post-modern cowboy role Cumberbatch plays in The Power of the Dog. That part has captured him a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Cumberbatch’s career runs deep and wide by now, including work as Dr. Strange and a British spy in 2020’s The Courier. Television has also been very good to him. He played Stephen Hawking in 2004 and had a long, starry moment with his seven-season role in BBC’s Sherlock, the mere mention of which caused the Arlington crowd to erupt in cheers.
Did he realize this take on the Conan Doyle classic would be such a success? “Yup,” he said pertly, then issued a “just kidding” brand of a laugh. “None of us knew how stupendously popular it would be.”
Cut to 2022, and he’s basking in the deserved glow of a film, and a role lavished with critical praise and box office power, plus Oscar whispering in his ear. Fittingly, the Vanguard award was presented to him by Campion, this time appearing live and in-person.
Once Santa Barbara officially brands a celebrity as a local, the 805 badge sticks and the welcome mat comes out for return visits. So when former Santa Barbara (well, Montecito) resident Jane Seymour showed up this week in conjunction with her role in the new Australian film Ruby’s Choice, there was a bit of old home week feeling in the house. The film deals with a grandmother with Alzheimer’s and the growing complications of the caregivers’ roles that ultimately pull the family together.
After Wednesday afternoon’s screening at the Metro, Seymour and director Michael Budd spoke passionately about the film and the driving force behind the project, advocating for Alzheimer’s care and awareness. Seymour, sporting a snug red dress and looking younger and more manicured than her earthy Ruby character on screen, posed a rhetorical question: “Are there any tears in the house?”
She had accepted the invitation to appear in the film’s titular role after reading the script and responding immediately. “I felt it was uplifting, real and necessary,” she remembered. “What was different about this story is that it was about the caregivers as well.” She also pointed out the subjective nature of an Alzheimer’s patient’s reality. “Ruby gets lost in the real world,” she said, “but she was in her world.”
The subject hit close to home for Seymour. “I had two uncles who died of Alzheimer’s, and I had the pleasure of knowing Glen Campbell,” she said. “Glen eventually went into a home. He was so lost, but he was happy there. My son came and played a song for him, and Glen started to work out a harmony. It was wonderful to see him find that spark.”
Towards the end of the Q&A session, the Jane Seymour fans in the house called out such favorite mainstream Seymour films as Live and Let Die and Battlestar Galactica. Her career continues apace. “Actresses over 40 can find it hard to get work,” she commented. “I’m 71, and I’m working all the time. They keep aging me up,” she laughed.
CHILD’S EYE WISDOM
Scarborough is a remarkable film, partly because of its uncanny ability to tap into children’s perspectives. The children in question here are grounded in the hardscrabble, multicultural neighborhood of Scarborough, an impoverished zone on the outskirts of Toronto. Scarborough homes include types ranging from sweet and loving mothers to raging racist fathers, yet children’s winsome innocence and resiliency, even in adverse situations, prevail.
What separates this film from other lives-of-children cinema is the dance it manages between a loose documentary style and feature film strategies, seamlessly blended into an innovative mixture. It is based on a novel and adapted screenplay by Catherine Hernandez and directed by Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson. It tells the neighborhood’s story with a mixture of handheld camera shots, jittery close-ups, syncopated editing rhythms, plus a cast with many first-time actors, including the disarmingly strong children and non-actors.
The end result is mesmerizing, despite its relaxed two-hour-plus duration. Scarborough is part social commentary, part semi-experimental film, and part compassionate child’s play on a profound level.
This year’s SBIFF rich programming crop has two entries that deal directly with factory life. But if The Good Boss serves up its week-in-the-life factory tale as a tasty satirical froth, aided by Javier Bardem’s sure comic touch, then Between Two Dawns tells its day-in-the-life story in grimmer, morally shaded tones.
The Turkish film, smartly directed by Selman Nacar, revolves around a textile factory once run by a respected man whose sons now hold the reins. A serious accident on the floor sends them scrambling and fearing the recriminatory wrath of a potentially litigious family and legal hurdles, more than compassion for the victim. Elements of cover-up and victim-smearing, not to mention an urgent effort to get the victim’s wife to sign off on the factory’s culpability, thicken the plot. But details and context aside, the film becomes a fascinating morality tale and study of family dynamics, as the younger and more scrupulous son wrestles with ethical quandary laid out by his more Machiavellian brother.