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Oscar Nominee Amy Adams at The Arlington

Santa Barbara International Film Festival photos by Bill Heller.

Amy Adams, actress, singer and mother interviewed at The Arlington Theatre before receiving the 2013 Cinema Vanguard Award. – Bill Heller

Amy Adams walking the red carpet at the Arlington, on her way to receive the 2013 Cinema Vanguard Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Amy Adams enjoying an evening of questions with a few hundred of her closest friends at The Arlington Theatre during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.


Column by Loretta Redd

The term ‘head-banger’ was brought to us in 1969 when the entranced fans of Led Zeplin pounded their foreheads against the stage in beat with the deafening music. Today, I define ‘head-banger’ as a statement so ludicrous that it results in the desire to go to the closest wall or desk surface and do the same, even without a rhythmical beat.

A head-banger is hearing a Democrat say that the way to solve the debt is by spending more money. Or the Tea Party suggesting we solve gun violence by improving access to mental health (which many of them apparently need), at the same time trying to defund the Health Care Act which pays for psychological services. Maybe it’s politicians who refer to those not currently working as ‘takers,’ while at the same time, denying the right to work to those trying to find it.

Head-banger moments occur when ideology, passion and absurdity morph into pronouncement of an utterly inane statement used to justify some illogical belief or insecurity-driven fallacy.

On the fortieth anniversary of the seemingly unending Roe v Wade male-led battle giving women the unimpeded right to make their own pregnancy decisions, we have California’s Proposition 8 conservative lawyers utilizing a head-banger argument against gay marriage:

They claim that marriage “should be limited to unions of a man and a woman because they alone, can produce unplanned and unintended offspring.”

Follow me here, it only gets weirder. Washington attorney Charles Cooper believes it is reasonable for California to uphold ‘traditional’ marriage because same-sex couples “don’t present a threat of irresponsible procreation.” In fact, he argues, in order to have children, “substantial advance planning is required.”

And that’s a BAD thing?

So, same sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry, because they may plan a pregnancy with ‘intention?’ Which would be contrary to all of those UNintended, and often UNwanted children being born to married or unmarried heterosexual women, often because of religious, personal or legal challenges accessing birth control.

How’s your forehead feeling about now?

The larger issue at stake isn’t really gay marriage, gun ownership, immigration rights or control of a woman’s uterus. It is our governance based on increasingly blatant political contribution rather than personal conscience, and the absence of immediate consequence to those who carry out the legislative bidding of their PACs. For lawmakers, it seems first and foremost about keeping their livelihoods, rather than protecting ours.

The head-banging produced at the hands of intellectually dishonest, morally bankrupt and politically shortsighted party mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh and elected officials on both sides of the aisle is nothing new and not likely to disappear any time soon.

But what is different, is the speed and veracity at which hateful, harmful or simply stupid statements are broadcast throughout the nation; exposing lawmakers and political machines to social judgment, more than ever, in real time.

Modern day ‘head-banger’ statements get global distribution and rapid critique. It is the new age of information sharing and the capacity to spread not only the inane, but the novel and workable solutions to our current social challenges that excites me.

Excedrin may become our National Prescription Medication for headache pain, but one day our government may again act based on what is best for the nation, rather than what is best for their reelection. In the meanwhile, bang on those keyboards, rather than the wall.

After Lucia (Después_de_Lucía)

Coverage of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival by Sharon Byrne

There are some films you don’t watch for entertainment. They shine a flashlight into an ugly underbelly of the human condition, into dark corners of the human heart. They’re so disturbing that it’s likely only festival audiences will ever see them.

After Lucia is one of those.

Set in Mexico, the film follows a father and daughter in the aftermath of a terrible car accident that claims mother and wife Lucia. You don’t know anything about Lucia, other than the father is devastated, so the daughter, Alejandre moves into a comforting, nurturing role.

They move from Puerto Vallarta to Mexico City to start a new life. The father is a chef, and Alejandre, starts at a new school. She readily makes friends, while her father unravels, quitting his job rashly, and starting a fistfight over a minor traffic incident.

Alejandre joins her new friends for an unsupervised weekend away at a friend’s posh retreat house. They party, naturally. Alejandre gets drunk, and has sex with the most popular of the boys in the bathroom. He films the event on his cell phone, and she seemingly doesn’t care.

Unfortunately, the video instantly circulates in school, and Alejandre immediately becomes the target of harassment. It starts with taunts and isolation, but quickly escalates beyond bullying into sexual aggression and brutality.

Realizing her father is barely on the mend, Alejandre shields him from the escalating tactics, further isolating herself. Things reach a tipping point with a dreaded school trip to Vera Cruz, where Alejandre is basically tortured.

Director Michel Franco uses no mood or suspense music, doesn’t cue the audience as to what’s about to unfold, and uses long shots during and after some of the most terrible incidents, exacerbating audience discomfort to piano wire tension. The film achieves a stark realism that’s almost unendurable, particularly for this parent of a daughter Alejandre’s age. Some of the most brutal incidents provoked audible exclamations from the film audience.

The adults in After Lucia are remote, extraneous figures. Parents are called in to the principal’s office once, but otherwise absent. Teachers are not visible until the final scenes, and officials are impotent. Alejandre’s father, lost in his grief, is vaguely aware something is off, but her reassurances assuage him back into his shell. It’s also deeply disturbing that not one of the middle class kids involved in the brutalizing of Alejandre seems to have a conscience. The perpetrators are unchecked, and minor clique members seem oblivious. Alejandre fights at first, but as it escalates, she moves increasingly into a catatonic state. When her father finally learns some of what she’s suffered, after Alejandres goes missing in the ocean on that terrible Vera Cruz field trip, a terrible retribution ensues.

After Lucia was submitted in the Un Certain Regard competition in Cannes in 2012, and took the top prize. Definitely not a light-hearted afternoon of entertainment, but it will have you thinking deeply on the human condition long after you’ve left the theater.

2013 Virtuosos Recipients

Santa Barbara Film Festival photos by Bill Heller.

2013 Virtuosos Recipients walking the red carpet at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. (Rear L to R) Omar Sy, Ezra Miller, Ann Dowd, Elle Fanning, Eddie Redmayne, (front) Quvenzhané Wallis. – Bill Heller

Elle Fanning walking the red carpet at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Caesar Must Die, and He Did So Extremely Well on an Italian Prison Stage

Santa Barbara International Film Festival Review by Sharon Byrne

One of my favorite treats of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is getting to see films from around the world that won significant competitions. Let everyone else do the Hollywood star stuff. I want to see the great films, and this festival delivers.

I saw the Cannes 2012 winner NO Saturday night. Sunday night, I took my daughter to see the 2012 Berlin Festival Golden Bear Winner Ceasar Must Die.

Caesar Must Die is a documentary, shot in black-and-white, in an Italian high-security prison. A theater director has partnered with the prison to produce Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, using the inmates as actors for the play. The film follows the auditions, casting and rehearsals, and the play is performed on a stage for a live, outside audience (not prisoners).

From the beginning, the pressure is high. The emotions are intense. We see the offenses, arrest date, and sentence of each member of the cast, some of them in for life for violent crimes, including murder.

You might think that prison inmates would make lousy actors, or at least really dangerous, hard-to-control ones, but as they become enveloped in the scenes, and in their characters, it becomes quite clear that Italians bring a passion to Shakespeare seldom matched on any stage. Further, this particular batch of Italian inmates is more than capable of mustering the raw, visceral emotions required for Julius Caesar. It’s like they were born for this. Some of them are natural entertainers, and very polite about asking which accent is appropriate for their character, causing the film audience to chuckle. Perhaps Shakespeare knew a thing or two about Italians… after all, he set many of his plays in Italy.

All of the rehearsals take place within the prison, and the director, Fabio, has to hunt around for suitable spots to act out some of the scenes. Prison life goes on around the actors as they rehearse, and while there is some disdain and scoffing by other inmates, curiosity starts to pick up. The guards watch a key scene where the murdered Ceasar is carried out into the forum. Inmates scream the lines of the chorus from behind barred windows as Marc Anthony gives his rousing speech, casting aspersions on the murderers of Caesar.

It’s quite clear early on that Brutus and Caesar have become their characters entirely. As the conspiracy to murder Caesar gets underway, Anthony is next, followed by Cassius. Eventually all the players successively become consumed by it.

It’s an amazing thing to watch a felon take to Shakespeare and work it, live it, all while going in and out of the same locked cell, sharing space with the same felons, behind prison walls.

The end result is a terrific film, blending documentary with high theater, against a barren, locked-down setting. As they rise to performing Shakespeare, some of the actors acknowledge that they’d been fools to think this stuff was stupid in school. Others realized that their ancient Roman heritage truly was worthy of Shakespeare’s pen…

One of the most moving parts occurs when Cassius, back in his cell, reflects that now he has performed art, his cell truly feels like a prison.

The performances are captivating, especially when you keep getting reminders that you are watching prison inmates. The film caused some controversy with its win at Berlin, but it’s a solid piece, combining intense emotion, great drama, and wry humor.

Shakespeare would have wanted nothing less.

David Cherniack at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Bill Heller, photographer for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

An artist on stage. David Chernaiack spoke of the journey to this moment when his film would be seen for the first time by more than five people at a time. You could hear the care in his voice for the effort that went into the making of his film, and the disappointment over the technical details that were not going exactly right in the theatre. I could truly relate to wanting things to be perfect. -Bill Heller

On the Docket… $4.2 Million for Fish Passage

On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council will discuss and consider funding options for removal of large concrete flood control channels along Mission Creek. These channels are known as the “CalTrans Channels”, and are reportedly a significant barrier to upstream steelhead trout migration. According to the Agenda, “Removing these barriers will help provide access for steelhead trout to 3.9 miles of creek channel, which include two miles of moderate to high quality spawning and rearing habitat.”

The construction cost estimate for the fish passage modifications to the Lower Caltrans Channel is $4,200,000. The Creeks Division will be receiving $300,000 in grant funding through the State Coastal Conservancy. The remaining amount would be funded with a combination of $1.7 million in California Department of Fish and Wildlife grant funding, a $775,000 grant from the Wildlife Conservation Board, and Measure B matching funds.
Continue reading…

“NO”: Chile’s submission to the 2013 Oscars

Coverage of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival by Sharon Byrne

(NO director Pablo Larraín introduces the film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival)

Politics, the potential ousting of a brutal dictator in an election with the world watching, where the tools of those seeking freedom from dictatorship are the arts, marketing and advertising…

What’s not to love???

NO intrigued me from the start. I knew it was about the Chilean election in 1988, a referendum somewhat forced by the rest of the world on Pinochet to legitimize his regime. He’d taken Chile by brutal force, as the head of the military. Now that rule would be put to the test of democracy, and extended another 8 years….or abolished.

On its face, it sounds fair….but here there be dragons. When the election ministers are all under the thumb of the dictator, what ‘fair’ outcome is remotely possible? When that same government censors news stories unfavorable to itself, and ‘disappears’ activists and protestors?

To give at least the appearance of fairness, each side would be given 15 minutes to present their case nightly, for 27 days, on Chilean National TV. Then the vote would be taken.

Enter the campaigns… keep Pinochet in power: Si! (yes), or vote him out – the NO. Under the glare of international scrutiny, lending perhaps some sense of oversight, openly identifying with either camp is very risky: if you’re on the NO team, and you lose, you’d likely be facing arrest, torture and execution. If you’re on the YES team, aligned with the dictator, which seems like a safe bet, you’re supporting a capricious man who might well turn on you at some point. And if he loses…you lose too – your standing, your support in the society dependent on his regime being in power.

That’s interesting enough to get me into a theater seat, but what NO does particularly well is rope you in with a compelling human drama through which the campaign story is told. The story centers on the genius and vision of a rising star in advertising, Rene Saavedra, played beautifully by Gael Garcia Bernal. Saavedra is first attached to the NO campaign as a consultant. His estranged wife is a political activist who spends more time getting arrested and beat up then she does with him and their adorable little boy. He feels powerless as her activism destabilizes his home life. Continue reading…