"No No"Santa Barbara International Film Festival photos
“No No”

Santa Barbara International Film Festival photos

You can’t take movie watching lightly at SBIFF. If you’re a newbie, bear in mind that attending a film at the Film Festival is not like your usual night out at the multiplex. There are lines. And not only are there lines, there are lines to stand in other lines. And there are passes and ticket booklets and — in the case of films at the Metro — four films going on at the same time. Oh my! So choosing a film is a careful proposition.

Every film festival has surprises, and the films that get the buzz are sometimes the ones that don’t jump off the schedule page. But here are 14 must-see events for your first week of cinema going at the Fest.

"The Amazing Catfish (Los insolitos peces gato)"
“The Amazing Catfish (Los insolitos peces gato)”

Ilo Ilo

Anthony Chen’s first feature won a nice chunk of prizes — Cannes Golden Camera, BFI’s Sutherland Trophy, Best Film and New Director at the Golden Horse — so it’s pedigree is great. It also turns out to be a rather unsentimental look at a Malaysian housekeeper in Singapore whose relationship with the family sours when the economy tanks. Slow, but fraught with complex emotions, this one will stay with you.

We hear there’s pre-buzz about this comedy before SBIFF buzz, Andrew Putschoegl’s comedy of two best female friends who pose as a couple in order to take advantage of a free weekend at a pricey “retreat.” However, they get more than they bargained for as they attempt to maintain the facade and construct a believable backstory.

The Wind Rises
Even if Hayao Miyazaki recently reneged on his announcement that this would be his last film, the master animator (“Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke”) is in the twilight of his years, and so this tale of the man who designed the Japanese Zero airplane has much to say about invention, art, dreams and hope, along with Mr. Miyazaki’s bravura animated sequences.

Hany Abu-Assad, who directed “Paradise Now,” his musing about unlikely suicide bombers, was nominated for an Academy Award several years back. And now his follow-up, “Omar” has also been nominated, as well as winning the Un Certain Regard at Cannes. This thriller focuses on three friends who take their lives in their hands just to hang out, by scaling the West Bank’s Separation Wall.

The Missing Picture
Also nominated for Best Foreign Film, Rithy Pahn’s doc reconstructs life in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, but does it using a mix of archival footage, his own narration, and clay figurines. The film is a memory piece, but also an essay on how to represent the unfilmable.

Stephen Bradley’s drama follows a plucky Irish woman (Christina Noble) of the title, as she drops everything and flies into Vietnam, setting out to eventually help some 700,000 street children. The film jumps back and forth from the present day to 1989, when she first arrived.

The Past
Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” was a stunning film with few characters and a simple set-up, but with a riveting unfolding that constantly changed our perceptions of events. Similarly, his follow-up, “The Past” deals with divorce and an estranged husband brought back into his soon-to-be ex-wife’s life when he discovers their daughter disapproves of her mother’s new boyfriend. Stars “The Artist”‘s Berenice Bejo.

"We Are The Best!"
“We Are The Best!”

We Are The Best!
Lukas Moodysson’s follow-up to “Show Me Love” and “Together” is a tribute to teenagers everywhere who want to start a rock band … only here the trio is young girls with punk-rock haircuts. A true DIY aesthetic reigns throughout in this delightful film.

The Grand Seduction
Brendan Gleeson (“In Bruges,” “The Guard”) stars in this comedy from director, Don McKellar, who directed the quite marvelous (and underrated) feature, “Last Night.” Here an ailing fishing village — with Mr. Gleeson in charge — must convince a doctor to stay there in order to attract a new factory and the accompanying jobs. A comedy of manners and fake sophistication, it should be interesting to see what Mr. McKellar’s been doing.

A Year in Champagne
Last year’s “A Year in Burgundy” was a crowd favorite at the fest — we love our wine here in town, if you haven’t noticed. David Kennard’s followup doc focuses on the bottle of bubbly everybody loves to crack open. He traces the history, influence and methods of this particular drink.

The Thief of Baghdad
Hide out from the Superbowl at the Arlington with one of Douglas Fairbanks’ finest silent films, full of astounding action set pieces that showcase the actor’s athleticism. No stunt doubles here — plus, it’s free!

Ben Pitterle and Brian Hall’s doc follows three swimmers — a veteran, a novice, single mom, and a 13-year-old, as they all accept the same challenge: to swim the Santa Barbara Channel in frigid waters without wetsuits, and at night. Brrr!

The Amazing Catfish (Los insolitos peces gato)
Claudia Sainte-Luce’s debut feature is a comedy about a young woman and an older matriarch who become friends when they meet in a hospital. Soon, their lives are intertwined and a new kind of makeshift family is formed.

Caesar’s Grill
Dario Aguirre’s doc travels with the filmmaker as he returns to Ecuador from Germany to help save his father’s grill from bankruptcy. But Dario, a vegetarian, soon realizes that this little eatery is much more than just a place to get food.

For up-to-the minute film times and locations (most screenings at SBIFF have several), please check:

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