World Premiere Films at Santa Barbara International Film Festival

An Overview of the 30 Films Having Their Debut at SBIFF

World Premiere Films at
Santa Barbara International Film Festival

An Overview of the 30 Films Having
Their Debut at SBIFF

By Leslie Dinaberg | February 9, 2023

Call Me Dancer | Credit: Courtesy
Check out this week’s cover story and U.S. movie premieres at SBIFF

One of the most exciting opportunities the Santa Barbara International Film Festival offers is to be one of the first audiences to see the world premiere or U.S. premiere of a film. Not only that, the filmmakers — including actors — are just as excited as we are, and they often show up to do Q&As after screenings, as well as mix and mingle with eager movie fans. 

Here are the summaries of the 30 world-premiere feature films screening at SBIFF. For a complete schedule of screenings, visit or use the SBIFF app.

21 Miles in Malibu

Directed by Nic Davis

United States

This documentary tells the story of Pacific Coast Highway, which has unfortunately been “one of the deadliest stretches of asphalt on Earth” and also chronicles the lives of some of the people affected. 

American Outlaws

Directed by Sean McEwen

United States

In this film based on a true story, three siblings take matters into their own hands with a cross-country crime spree of epic proportions. 

Bringing Back Our Wetland | Credit: Courtesy

Bringing Back Our Wetland

Directed by Michael Love

United States

Led by visionary environmentalists, a community restores a wetland that had been converted into a golf course in the ’60s.


Directed by Peter Pontikis


A hard-hitting drama that grapples with the importance of being allowed to remain a child in a world where the circumstances don’t allow it. 

Call Me Dancer

Directed by Leslie Shampaine, Pip Gilmour

United States

A street dancer from Mumbai struggles with his parents, and then he meets a curmudgeonly dance master, who inspires him to follow his dreams.

Commitment to Life

Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz

United States

A documentary that tells the story of the AIDS crisis and profiles some of the people from ACT UP and AIDS Project Los Angeles who were involved in the fight to change the course of this epidemic.

Dancing with Mom

Directed by Trish Neufeld


A mother-daughter documentary that follows them on a heart-wrenching and hilarious journey of love, loss, and atonement — as a family mystery threatens to destroy them. 

The Dirty Divide | Credit: Courtesy

The Dirty Divide

Directed by Paul Freedman

United States

Community organizers in downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row fight for the rights of residents to live in dignity and peace amid punishing cruelty.

Dr. Tony Fauci

Directed by Mark Mannucci

United States

This documentary reveals the man behind the microphone — a flawed, courageous, and passionate scientist, husband, father, and public servant.

Full Circle

Directed by Josh Berman

Go On, Be Brave | Credit: Courtesy

United States

An unblinking examination of the challenges of spinal cord injury (SCI) and a celebration of the growth that such tragedy can catalyze. 

Go On, Be Brave

Directed by Miriam McSpadden, Brian Beckman

United States

This documentary follows the amazing quest of Andrea Lytle Peet and her aim to become the first person with ALS to do a marathon in all 50 states.

Grace Point

Directed by Rory Karpf

United States

A young man on his way to a remote drug rehab finds himself in a strange town being chased by the locals, as well as by his own personal demons.

The Harvest

Directed by Caylee So

United States

As cultural traditions become a burden of the past, an estranged son returns home to his ailing Hmong father, only to set off a chain of events that will affect his entire family.


Directed by Dylan Mulick

United States

The story of Helen Maroulis, America’s first female Olympic gold medalist in wrestling (Rio ’16).

The House Band | Credit: Courtesy

The House Band

Directed by Laura Brownson

United States

An intimate portrait of a man named Jacob and his homeless bandmates who have become the de facto house-musicians for the hippest bar on the Venice Boardwalk.

Ibiza Blue (La corriente)

Directed by Jesús Lloveras


The directorial debut of Lloveras, who was an SBIFF juror in 2017 and 2018. He stars in this film he wrote about the lives of three young professionals whose lives intersect in the post COVID-19 Ibiza.

Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection

Directed by Randy Martin

United States

Forty years after her death, this captivating, revealing, and unvarnished documentary provides astounding new insight into the singer’s tragically short life and enduring musical legacy.

Killing Me Softly with His Songs | Credit: Courtesy

Killing Me Softly with His Songs

Directed by Danny Gold

United States

A documentary about composer Charles Fox, who wrote the iconic theme songs for a number of TV shows, including Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Love Boat, Wonder Woman, and Monday Night Football, as well as a number of pop hits.

The Legend of MexMan

Directed by Josh Polon

United States

A love letter to films and filmmaking, this documentary chronicles young Mexican-American filmmaker Germán Alonso’s quest to direct his first feature: a sci-fi epic starring his immigrant superhero character, MexMan. 

Miranda’s Victim

Directed by Michelle Danner

United States

The opening night film for SBIFF tells the story of an 18-year-old woman (played by Abigail Breslin), who was kidnapped and brutally raped in 1963 and whose fight to bring her attacker to justice triggered a law that transformed the nation. 

Rachel Hendrix | Credit: Courtesy

Rachel Hendrix

Directed by Victor Nuñez

United States

Starring Lori Singer, of Short Cuts and Footloose fame, this is the intimate story of a widow, mother, professor, and author finding her way in life after losing her beloved husband.

Rachel’s Farm

Directed by Rachel Ward


Besieged by drought, bushfires, and ecological despair, director and actress Rachel Ward finds hope in the soil beneath her feet and begins a journey of discovery to regenerate the land on her farm — and herself.

The Right to Read

Directed by Jenny Mackenzie

United States

Samichay, in Search of Happiness | Credit: Courtesy

The stories of a courageous activist, a teacher, and two American families who fight to provide our youngest generation with the most foundational indicator of lifelong success: the ability to read. 

Samichay, in Search of Happiness (Samichay, en busca de la felicidad)

Directed by Mauricio Franco Tosso


Takes place in the Peruvian Andes, where a peasant hermit goes on a healing journey with his cow — from the solitude of the Andes to the chaos of villages and urbanization.

The Team (El equipo)

Directed by Bernardo Ruiz

United States

This documentary is the story of legendary forensic scientist Dr. Clyde Snow and a group of Argentine students (the New York Times called them “unlikely forensic sleuths”) who change the course of forensics forever. 

Tove’s Room (Toves værelse)

Directed by Martin Zandvliet


In this film based on a play and on real people, Oscar-nominated director Zandvliet tells the story of acclaimed Danish author Tove Ditlevsen as she navigates a power struggle between herself and her sadistic husband, editor-in-chief Victor Andreasen. 

Vishniac | Credit: Courtesy


Directed by Laura Bialis

United States

Difficult and flamboyant, Roman Vishniac captured iconic images of Jewish life, from the cafés of pre-war Berlin to the shtetls of Eastern Europe. But it would be up to his daughter to preserve his legacy.

Voices Rising: The Music of Wakanda Forever

Directed by Bernardo Ruiz, Meji Alabi

Oscar-winning composer Ludwig Göransson and director Ryan Coogler collaborate with musicians and artists from across the globe, creating the music for one of the most anticipated sequels in modern movie history. 

Wade in the Water: A Journey Into Black Surfing and Aquatic Culture

Directed by David Mesfin

United States

A documentary film that delves into the 1,000-year-old tradition of Black surfing and the relationship of the sport to Black culture, from Africa to the Americas.

Wade in the Water: A Journey Into Black Surfing and Aquatic Culture | Credit: Courtesy
Check out this week’s cover story and U.S. movie premieres at SBIFF


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