2007 Santa Barbara International Film Festival

SBIFF 2007:  Opening Observations

By Madelyn Ritrosky
Entertainment Magazine

left: Chris Gardner , the man whose rags-to-riches life is portrayed by Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness. Photo by Madelyn Ritrosky

The 22nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) started out of the gate with a packed house, complete with spotlights shining into the chilly night sky above the historic Arlington Theater. 

The press line was packed and the audience queue was long.  People were there to see Factory Girl and the film’s stars, Sienna Miller and Guy Pearce, and director George Hickenlooper.  But they were also there for the thrill of Opening Night.     

The festival boasts a mix of Hollywood glamour, independent verve, world cinema, and local filmmaking.  As a growing festival, the filmic smorgasbord can sometimes seem overwhelming and exhausting.  Just how many films can one person see in one day, for how many days in a row?  I don’t know what the record is, but the excitement of such a great variety of great films in one place at one time, as well as the “food for thought” that the films provide, is obviously worth it.     

A few observations on the first two films I saw…

Factory Girl looks at the rise and fall of Edie Sedgewick, the woman who was Andy Warhol’s muse-friend in the mid to late 1960s.  The film traces her life from her move to New York City in 1965, where she soon met rising pop culture artist Warhol, on through her tragic drug dependency and fallout with Warhol.  In postscript, the film tells us that despite her attempts to get off drugs, she died of an overdose in 1971 at the age of 28.

Photo righ: Guy Pierce, by Madelyn Ritrosky

With Sedgewick hailing from Santa Barbara – and with the portrayal of her parents, especially her father – there has been uneasiness locally about this film.  Bob Dylan was reportedly unhappy with the musician in the film, played by Hayden Christiansen, because the character seems too close even though Dylan apparently was never involved with Sedgewick.  In fact, the one – and explicit – love scene in the film involves Sedgewick and Billy Quinn, the singer-songwriter.

Sienna Miller does an admirable job as Sedgewick.  Guy Pearce is fully believable as Warhol.  And Hayden Christiansen comes off as the confident but sensitive singer who drives the wedge that comes between Sedgewick and Warhol.

In the end, the musician represents the higher, self-respecting road Sedgewick chose not to take – though he is a fictional, composite type of character.

George Hickenlooper directs this controversial film, which delves into the personal relationships rather than fully immersing itself in the cultural milieu.  Various scenes and sequences do, of course, evoke the styles, images, and iconography of the times, but some feel it didn’t go far enough into that cultural context for examining these characters and their lives.

left: Jennifer Hudson of DreamGirls, nominated for a supporting actress Osca. Photo by Madelyn Ritrosky

The British film Scenes of a Sexual Nature, from director Ed Blum, had its U.S. premiere.  This is the first feature film for Blum and for screenwriter Aschlin Ditta.  Although the film has done well in England, it will be interesting to see how American audiences react.  It is basically a lower-budget, independent version of Love Actually.  Ewan McGregor, however, does head the ensemble cast.  Although the film’s title, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, suggests certain premises and themes, I wouldn’t describe the film as overtly or overly concerned with sex or sexuality per se.  Most of the vignettes or story threads are really about relationships, with sexual attraction implied through the characters and what they say and do. 

The film is a comedy that puts various stages or types of relationships under the microscope.  And while there were funny lines and moments, there were others that were not especially funny.  Like Love Actually, I find myself wondering about the characters and stories that might have been there but weren’t – the relationships, explorations, and viewpoints that don’t make the cut.  Perhaps that will always be the case when a film attempts to explore something from a variety of perspectives.  You simply can’t include everything.  Nonetheless, I walked out feeling like something was missing for me as a heterosexual woman interested in the exploration of gender, sexuality, and equality. 

2007 Santa Barbara Film Festival Index

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