FILM : Time for our favorite season – The 23rd annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival brings stars and celluloid to town


By Ted Mills, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
January 25, 2008 8:37 AM

That particular time of year has fallen on us again. The mutable weather hovers between sun and rain. Despite the cloudy weather, unfamiliar people from southern cities wear sunglasses. When the wind rises it catches on laminated movie credentials hanging around necks, making them flutter in the breeze. People unfamiliar with State Street stumble out of dark theaters, amazed at what they’ve seen, then try to figure out where to eat for 30 minutes before diving in again.
Yes, it’s the 23rd Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which, as you read this, has already been in town for one evening. But today, running through Feb. 3, is when the real schedule-juggling, stargazing, contact-making party begins.
Here’s what the Film Festival seems to have learned from last year: don’t mess with the formula, just add to it. Celebrity appearances and award presentations serve as a linchpin for each evening, and the list is formidable: Angelina Jolie, Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Ryan Gosling, Javier Bardem, Julie Christie and more. The Virtuosos Award — new for 2008 — honors five rising stars for the price of one. What a deal!
The series of panels — on directing, producing, writing and more — return in force this year, as does the 10-10-10 Student Filmmaking competition, which often results in some of the quirkiest and freewheelin’ short films in the festival . . . and they’re homemade too.
The festival divides 215 films into several categories and sidebars — the regulars, such as Latino Cinemedia, To the Maxxx (extreme sports films), and East x West (Asian cinema), plus new sidebars, such as Eastern Bloc — again focusing on developments in sub-layers of film with their own devoted followers. And for kids (and families) there’s the absolutely free Applebox, a weekend, morning-only fest of family films.
The festival tantalizes with the idea that maybe you’ll see a brilliant, life-changing film and be the first one to know all about it. Not all films are guaranteed to have as much as a DVD shelf life, so pay attention, because those memories remain important.
Lastly, let’s not forget what makes a festival great, other than the films — the schmoozing, the celebrating and the party going. The mass gathering of the film tribes always is cause for much merriment. Can the festival top the Biltmore-set Will Smith party last year, of which people spoke in rapturous tones for days? Or Q’s Sushi a Go-Go turning into three levels of hell, purgatory and heaven? We’ll let you know in 10 days.
For a full schedule, check www.sbiff.org.

Ted’s Top-10 checklist
With 215 films, so little time, what am I curious to see?
‘The Unknown Woman’
Closing night film from the director of “Cinema Paradiso. One of his best, they are saying.
‘In the Company of Actors’
Sure, I’d love to watch Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving rehearsing “Hedda Gabler,” as this doc does.
‘Vexille’
I missed last year’s anime spectacular, “Paprika,” and it took me months to catch up. Not this time.
‘Away From Her’
Brilliant actor Sarah Polley turns out to be a brilliant director, I have been told by my sources.
‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’
Because I missed it when it passed through town. What can I say?
‘Triangle’
Three Hong Kong directors for the price of one: Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To!
‘D Tour: A Tenacious D(ocumentary)’
The D Men make me laugh, who knows what awaits in a doc?
‘Frank & Cindy’
What happened to the man behind OXO’s one-hit wonder “Whirley Girl”? This doc sounds like a dysfunctional journey I’d like to take.
‘George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead’
Yeah, I know I can wait for a regular release, but this is Romero!
‘The Mourning Forest’
Naomi Kawase’s film has sent online reviewers into comparisons with Mizoguchi and Kiarostami. I’m intrigued.

Note:
My list is subject to change once the festival begins!

©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

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