Michael Apted has been following the subjects of his documentary since 1963. Seth Wenig photo
Michael Apted has been following the subjects of his documentary since 1963.
Seth Wenig photo

Michael Apted’s “56 Up” is the latest in a series of documentaries shot for British television that initially set out to talk about class differences in a radically changing, early ’60s Britain. Taking a group of schoolchildren at seven years old — some rich, some poor, some in-between — he interviewed them about their dreams, ideals, and hopes. Since that first film — grainy, black and white, very much post-war Britain — Mr. Apted has returned to the same group every seven years for a follow-up doc, named after their age: “21 Up”, “35 Up” etc. In between these films, Mr. Apted has made a career as a director of Hollywood films both pop corny — “The World Is Not Enough” — and award worthy — “Gorillas in the Mist” and “Nell.” But the “7Up” series will be his lasting monument.

At 72, he’s still checking in with the group, and “56 Up” — which screens at Campbell Hall this Monday and features Q&A with Mr. Apted — finds the cast mostly enjoying their middle years. It’s not as gloomy as one would think.

Read More

Commitment-Phobia – Mike Birbiglia’s one-man show frets about marriage

Mike Birbiglia stars in a one-hour comedy special Joshua Massre photo
Mike Birbiglia stars in a one-hour comedy special
Joshua Massre photo

We’re causing a lot of break-ups across America!” says writer, comedian and actor Mike Birbiglia on his most recent film, “Sleepwalk with Me.” The film, based on his one-man-show and a spot on “This American Life,” details how Mr. Birbiglia figures out that he’s not ready for marriage to his longsuffering girlfriend, while at the same time beginning his career in stand-up … once he dropped his corny jokes and started to tell the audience about his relationship. The film makes uneasy viewing, as Mr. Birbiglia never flinches — in fact, he indulges — in showing his most weasely, reprehensible behavior. For commitment-phobes, it’s not a date movie, though it’s a funny one.

“Ira Glass and I have heard people have broken up after seeing it,” Mr. Birbiglia says. “And we don’t know how to take that. We don’t want to be the break-uppers, but if the movie affects people then that’s good.”

Read More

We Are the Dead – ‘Collapse’: One Man’s Mission to Wake Us All Up

Sometimes the best docs start when the filmmakers go off course, when the wheel is grabbed by their subject and driven elsewhere. As “Collapse” tells us, the filmmakers were set to interview Michael Huppert, a former LAPD officer and detective, once CIA whistleblower and now peak-oil evangelist, about his former bosses in the government. “He had other things on his mind,” the caption says.

Huppert’s mind expands into 75 minutes of riveting monologue, assuaged by animated graphs and public-domain film footage from the 1950s — all eye candy, breaking down how the downslope of the peak oil bell curve will change life on Earth as we know it. He warns about the human race’s rush toward suicide, and would like to stop us, if only we’d listen.

And skeptical or not, we do. The camera in “Collapse” approaches Huppert — chain smoking and chatting under a single light — like one would circle an insistent intellectual or a slightly crazed co-worker in a bar. So much of what he says makes sense, but can it all really be true? Are we all doomed? “What if he’s wrong?” we ask, only to be followed by, “Oh my God, what if he’s right?” So we keep listening.

During a month where untold millions of gallons of oil are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, potentially ending ecosystems and livelihoods for an unforeseeable amount of time, Huppert’s thesis about peak oil feels more prescient than ever.

Not only do we use gas to power cars and airplanes, but oil is the base for all our plastics, all our pharmaceuticals, our entire infrastructure. When Huppert was interviewed, many of his past predictions had come true, including the sub-prime mortgage debacle and the tanking of the markets. But when it comes to peak oil, his thoughts, which are nothing new among the government agencies who refuse to discuss them, may be catching on elsewhere.

Filmmaker Chris Smith wisely let Huppert just talk, though we are never sure how much he and his editor may have shaped a rambling discussion into this tight, cohesive essay.

Smith is not shy about playing devil’s advocate; when Huppert avoids a question, Smith presses him again. He isn’t starstruck by Huppert, but he doesn’t dismiss or ridicule him either.

And anyway, he says, two nations already have gone without oil: North Korea and Cuba. Both lost oil when the Soviet Union fell. North Korea, he says, starved — the full extent of which we in the West still don’t know — but Cuba urged all its citizens to start farming.

And this is what Huppert suggests for us, along with an emotional plea for community. Holing up in a cabin in the woods with a stockpile of tinned food and weaponry is not the way out, he says.

“Collapse” will send you out of the theater a bit sweaty palmed, only slightly hopeful for the survival of the human race and in wonder what we’re all doing as you sit behind the wheel, waiting to leave the parking lot.

He may just be right.

Length: 82 minutes
No rating
Playing: 7:30 p.m. at UCSB’s Campbell Hall

Werner Movie Classics : Werner Herzog’s 60-plus filmography continues to grow

Some would call film director Werner Herzog brave and bold. Others would call him crazy. Nobody would deny he is some kind of genius, whether making feature films about impossible, sometimes doomed missions, like “Aguirre, The Wrath of God,” or “Fitzcarraldo,” or documentaries about doomed people (“Grizzly Man”) or inhospitable worlds (“Encounters at the End of the World,” about Antarctica). On Wednesday night he will sit down with another well-traveled soul, Pico Iyer, and talk about ? well, nobody’s decided just yet.

We talked to the 67-year-old director, who continues to make films at least once a year, and now has started up his own “Rogue Film School” to foster a new generation of rebels.

Read More

When the Alarm Clock Sounds : Human rights worldwide explored over four evenings at UCSB

Last year, UCSB’s Human Rights Film Festival promised six films over three days of double features. True to its incremental popularity, this year the fest has added on another day, two more features and two short films.

Like previous years, the festival tells two truths. The first, documentaries are still flourishing to cover the stories that our traditional media fail to tell, and second, that women make up a majority of the filmmakers, an inverse situation to that of Hollywood.

Read More

Into the Woods — ‘Rashomon,’ now in a sterling 35-mm print, is still a classic

Toshiro Mifune stars in Akira Kurosawa's seminal samurai film "Rashomon." Courtesy photos
Toshiro Mifune stars in Akira Kurosawa’s seminal samurai film “Rashomon.”
Courtesy photos

Four retellings of an incident resulting in a dead husband and a raped wife … four perceptions of a reality in which each teller confesses to a crime instead of hiding it. All are plausible, and all seem understandable for the characters. What to do?

If you’ve seen “Rashomon” before, it’s worth seeing again (and again). If you’ve never seen it, the time is long overdue to enjoy a classic that still stands up as such. Either way, a brand new 35 mm print of the film comes to UCSB this Tuesday evening.

Read More



“The inspiration for this piece came from not really knowing what I wanted to do.”

Choreographer Kenneth Kvarnström is talking on the phone from his San Francisco hotel room about “Fragile,” the hour-long work from 2001 that his dance company is bringing to UCSB Campbell Hall on Wednesday.

“Fragile is how I felt,” he says. Since 1987, the Finnish-born but Stockholm-based Kvarnström has made it his company’s mission to produce one long work per year, and then tour the world with it.

Read More

Three Steps Forward, One Back: Twyla Tharp Dance Delivers in the End, But Is Cute on the Way

©David Bazemore

A sold-out Campbell Hall crowd on Friday night got a heady dose of Twyla Tharp’s choreography as her recently regrouped (in 1999) Twyla Tharp Dance performed four works that brought Santa Barbara crowds up to date on Tharp’s most recent work, while delving back briefly for a look at Tharp’s beginnings. For relative newcomers it was a night of contrasts; for longtime aficionados, it was a confirmation of the changes Tharp has brought to modern dance.

The company is a talented, well chosen collection of dancers, all very strong by themselves, and the evening’s program introduced them to us two or three at a time, culminating with almost the entire company participating in the rousing finale. But more of that later.

Read More