A cinephiliac’s cornucopia: What to watch at this year’s SBIFF

The late British star Alan Bates in a scene from "Sins of a Father" SBIFF photo
The late British star Alan Bates in a scene from “Sins of a Father” SBIFF photo

Happy 30th birthday Santa Barbara International Film Festival! Now expanded by one full day and moved up to open on a Tuesday, the fest that draws film and movie star lovers from all over keeps getting bigger and better. With 23 world premieres and 53 U.S. premieres, along with loads more films on offer, from shorts to documentaries and back again, it can get quite overwhelming, especially when time is of the essence and major decisions need to be made.

As of this writing, days and times have not been announced, so this is our cursory look at the upcoming line-up of films, section by section, with our favorites based on trailers, director reputation and spidey-sense. From experience, some films at SBIFF never see the light of day in terms of DVD, VOD or streaming after the fest circuit, so we’ve learned not to wait. So let’s get to it!

A family on a ski vacation experiences a dangerous avalanche in "Force Majeure." Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures
A family on a ski vacation experiences a dangerous avalanche in “Force Majeure.” Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures
“Bang Bang Baby” (Director: Jeffrey St. Jules) has a Dead Alive/Cry Baby camp vibe to it, crossing a sci-fi mutation story with a rock ‘n’ roll Elvis-in-Hawaii musical. Jane Levy plays the ingenue, and Justin Chatwin plays the rock star who gets stranded in her small town just as a chemical leak occurs.

“Bonobo” (Director: Matthew Hammett Knott) is a UK comedy-drama about a daughter who joins a sex commune (be like the bonobo monkey, is their motto!) and the mother who joins for a day to get her out. Although it sounds like a naughty romp, the film is subtler and more serious than it lets on.

“Cure: The Life of Another” (Director: Andrea Staka) combines a doppelg?nger tale with the psychological post-war landscape of Croatia. Two friends play a sexually ambiguous game with terrible consequences, and director Staka’s film explores the strange second life that grows in the aftermath.

“Kill Me Three Times” (Director: Kriv Stenders) stars Simon Pegg as a hitman hired to take out a man’s wife who soon finds that plenty of other people want to kill her too, and nobody is what they seem. A dark, hilarious comedy from the director of “Red Dog.”

“Force Majeure” (Director: Ruben ÷stlund) is currently best known as “the film that got snubbed for Best Foreign Film Oscar nom” but should be known for its unnerving critique of male power. When a husband and father reacts intuitively to a dangerous avalanche on a ski vacation, his whole position within the family unit is changed for the worse.

“Sins of a Father” (Director: Andrew Piddington) is a bit of an oddity. The director has taken a film he shot in 1991 called “Shuttlecock,” starring Alan Bates, and reworked it and re-edited it into something . . . new? Mr. Bates died over 10 years ago, and there’s very little info on this new version or the old one, so what drove Mr. Piddington to do this? We’ll have to find out!

“Preggoland” (Director: Jacob Tierney) is filled with many popular faces from Canada’s improv scene (which we may recognize . . . yet), but also James Caan, who plays a kind grandfather thrilled that his granddaughter (Sonja Bennett) is finally pregnant. Which is nice except she’s faking the whole thing to fit in with her friends. This rom-com with dark overtones was a hit at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“Young Tiger” (Director: Cyprien Vial) was born out of a film workshop the director taught at a secondary school in France. In this film we follow a Punjabi teen who has to keep up with the demands of his father back home, his foster parents and his school. Instead of the usual crime and exploitation narrative one expects, this is more about how kindness and help can hem in a person’s dreams before they’re even an adult.

“I Am Femen” (Director: Alain Margot) explores the radical feminist protest group known for its nudity-filled disruptive events. But who are the young women behind these shock tactics? This documentary examines their lives off-TV-news-camera.

As usual, SBIFF is the best place to catch up with this year’s Foreign Language Oscar nominations. Although missing Pawe\u0142 Pawlikowski’s “Ida” (which came to town last year), it will screen Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan,” about a Russian man fighting a corrupt mayor; Zaza Urushadze’s “Tangerines,” about a man housing two soldiers from opposing sides of the 1990 Georgian war under his roof; Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu,” about a peaceful Malian family whose lives are disrupted by Islamic extremists; and the six-story omnibus “Wild Tales” from director Dami·n SzifrÛn, a dark comedy.

Also in the “Wait, didn’t this come to town? Or no?” category: Laura Poitras’ Edward Snowden documentary “CitizenFour”; David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars”; “Nightingale,” starring David Oyelowo before he took on the role of Martin Luther King, Jr. for “Selma”; and the smuggling drama “Haemoo” from Sung-bo Shim, the writer of “Memories of Murder.”

There’s more, including great Santa Barbara shorts and features, free screenings of 2014’s best kids movies during the mornings; and a plan to open up certain films at the Lobero for free … check SBIFF during the week to find which ones. Happy viewing!

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