The best time of my year is always the 9 days of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. I go to 4 or 5 films a day, last year having seen 38 recent releases in all. The more I go, the more unwatchable I find the predictable dreck coming out of Hollywood. The day is long and tiring, but I have found that I am often able to scribble off a review of the most outstanding films I see, and I'll be attempting to do so here. I focus mainly on documentaries, fictional films with a social message, and foreign films which convey something of another country.
Every year, a few actors and directors are honored. These events are surprisingly interesting, with short clips from the actor's filmography being interspersed with discussion with an interviewer. Leonard Malkin used to conduct the interviews, but that may have changed. About every other year we fork over $35 to attend one--this year we chose Daniel Day-Lewis over Jennifer Lawrence, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, and Leonardo DiCaprio. So far, the actors we have seen have been unusually bright and self-aware, making very stimulating. To us, it's not about glamour and hero-worship, although it amuses me to see some small percentage of attendees all duded up in elegant evening wear. I also wonder who it is that always seem to be crowded around the limo entrance, kleig light blazing the sky, to scream as the idols emerge from their cars. That always makes me chuckle.
So, I find it too complicated to have a master plan--I just chart one day at a time. Even so, I have glanced through the program and here are a few things to look forward to this year. A film about the folk scene in Greenwich Village in the 60's, a film about Occupy, a year in Burgundy focuses on the wine business, a doc on jazz musician Charles Lloyd and another entitled Hannah Arendt, a look at honey bees today, one entitled The Ivory Crisis, a film giving voice to Arabs living in a walled city, and on and on. I have learned definitively that there is no way to predict which of these films will be outstanding--some of the most mundane sounding entries turn out to be profound.
There is always a strong Social Justice line-up at this festival, as well as late night surf movies attended by real hotshot surfers. Sometimes I go to those just to be around the good-natured rowdiness. There seem to be quite a few from Central Asia this year, plus a new sidebar called Pan Asia (priceman, take a look at this):
An exciting new sidebar that features some of cinema's most cutting-edge auteurs. Glistening cityscapes, gritty urban underworlds and panoramic rural landscapes shape this diverse selection of films that explore contemporary life and culture in Asia.
Family Meals, from Croatia looks promising (last year's food selections were wonderful). A lot of my favorite films have come out of eastern Europe.
Remember the last time you talked to your parents? What did you talk about? Did you go a step further than talking about the weather and daily politics? A family of four assembles after five years for a birthday party. They wonder why they’ve turned their backs on one another. Can discussing buried family secrets help them overcome bitterness? Can a birthday cake gone wrong help them overcome the past? Through the ritual of family meals, the film talks about the importance of feeling accepted by the ones we love. / Abridged from Sarajevo Film Festival
I'll definitely go to Musicwood:
For hundreds of years guitars have been made the same way, but now this could all change. A band of famous guitar-makers (Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars, Chris Martin of Martin Guitars, and Dave Berryman of Gibson Guitar Corp.) travel together into a primeval rain forest. Their mission is to negotiate with Native American loggers before it's too late for acoustic guitars. The result is the funny, complex and heartbreaking story of a profound cultural conflict and a battle over natural resources. Artists featured in the film include Kaki King, Steve Earle, Yo La Tengo, The Antlers, Lambchop, Turin Brakes and Sergius Gregory.
If you're really into it vicariously, take a look at the website and if there's a film you think I would like or that you want me to try to check one out for you, just let me know.
It is an ongoing frustration of mine that so many terrific film-makers are holding up an accurate mirror to our world, managing to enlighten in an hour or two on important issues, usually from a liberal perspective (after all, reality does have a liberal bias). I worry a lot about the 24/7 rightwing propaganda blanketing our nation--this film festival is the only time I see liberal perspectives being broadcast powerfully and effectively, with no watering down. The frustrating part is how few people see these films. Many of the very best seem to just disappear. A few make it to netflix or become available in other ways. Sometimes they are purchased by, say, the Discovery Channel and, while sometimes available through television are not readily accessible to download. There is typically a two-year or more gap between being shown at the festival and going into some form of distribution.
Let me say finally that the most outstanding films are impossible to describe--they are ineffable. I have a hard time convincing people to go to them. The blurb may be something like, "Astronomers in Chile's desert work near a former concentration camp." I'm telling you, that was a great great film. So, please, trust me.
No promises--the days are grueling. I'll do my best to write up reviews in the evening. If I don't do it right away, the details begin to blur. Naturally, I'll focus on films of special interest to liberals and to people interested in being exposed to worlds outside their usual sphere.