And so the 24th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival has come to an end. Of course I didn’t see as many films as I would have liked, and of course there was plenty of mediocrity, but it was a splendid week, full of interesting stuff, and attaining the goal which should be that of every festival, namely a celebration of film within a local community. One of the nicest things about the festival was that it did seem an entirely local affair – most everyone I spoke to was actually from the town or its environs, the screenings were preceded by cute little films of various locals talking about their feelings for movies, favourite lines and so on, and everyone refers to the festival’s cheerful organiser, Roger Durling, exclusively by his first name.
The awards ceremonies for Kate Winslett, Clint Eastwood and others add a real touch of Hollywood glamour, and of course Santa Barbara itself verges on parody toytown perfectionism (I am always reminded when going there of the Scorpio’s model town in the Simpsons, where the bums turn into mailboxes). But with a plentiful number of friendly and helpful volunteers, audiences enthusiastically exchanging views and tips on all they had seen, and the same faces to be seen up and down State Street all week, it was a happy and cosy affair. Roll on the 25th anniversary!
The main awards were announced on Sunday morning, and the audience award in the evening. We all accepted ballots on the way into screenings, and apparently we liked Skin (d.Anthony Fabian) the best. I missed it (natch). But I kept hearing good things. It stars Sophie Okenedo, Sam Neill and Alice Krieg and is based on the true story of a black girl born to white Afrikaner parents during the 1960s apartheid era.
The rest of the awards were decided by a jury, headed by actor/comedian Dave Stein (a mysterious fellow: he headed the jury last year also, billed as a “film editor”), and including actors James Cromwell and Efren Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite), director Gil Kenan (Monster House) and producer Leslie Caveny (Everybody Loves Raymond) amongst others. Their top prize, the Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema went to Film Four’s Poppy Shakespeare (d. Benjamin Ross) with which I have little argument because I thought it was terrific. The Best International Film Award went to A Woman In Berlin (Eine Frau in Berlin) (d.Max Fäberböck) which I did not see and about which I heard absolutely nothing, but which is based on the true story of a woman trying to survive the Soviet invasion of Berlin at the end of WWII.
There was a strong Latin-American strand to the festival, enthusiastically overseen by Latino CineMedia, and the Nueva Vision Award for best Spanish-language film went to Amor a Morir (d.Fernando Lebrija), which was most enjoyable, but shouldn’t really be winning any awards anywhere. The Eastern Bloc Award went to Kazakhstan’s Academy-nominated Tulpan (d.Sergei Dvortsevoy) of which I kept hearing as audience members’ favourite of the festival. It was fine, but the drama and the ethnography never felt fully integrated to my mind. I don’t know if Bulgaria counts as Eastern Bloc these days, but my vote would undoubtedly have been for Zift (d.Javor Gardev) which was a fantastic and surreal fever dream of a movie that I was sorry to catch only once.
The documentary and social justice awards both went to Yes Madam, Sir (d. Megan Doneman) about the first woman to join the Indian police service and for which I heard nothing but praise; and the short film awards were won by Sam Taylor-Woods’ Love You More about teenagers bonding over the Buzzcocks song, and to the Acadamy-nominated This Way Up (d. Adam Foulkes, Alan Smith).