Film: Santa Barbara International Film Festival: 2009

More Festival Favorites: Five and Five

By Madelyn Ritrosky

Five Feature Films

Amar a morir

The title of this film from Mexican director Fernando Lebrija translates as To Love to the Death.  Think Romeo & Juliet.  Think Bonnie & Clyde a la Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.  The film’s opening sequence is an adrenalin-pumping mystery that grabs you right into a fateful night for young, rich Alejandro (Jose Maria de Tavira).  With the viewer hooked, Lebrija steps back and shows you what in fact just happened.  It’s ugly, but leads Alejandro to make a life-changing decision.  Miles and miles away, almost in a different world, he lands in a small beach town that seems quaint – at first.  When he falls in love with Rosa (Martina Garcia), he discovers that hard decisions and a hard world still confront him.   
Amar a Morir won SBIFF’s Nueva Vision Award for best Spanish-language film. 

Hold it like a Baby

Photo: Dana Halverson as Francesa (left) and Bink Goncharoff as Wilbur. Courtesy of Michael and Tina Love

This is a feature length comedy from a wife and husband filmmaking team, Tina Love and Michael Love.  After completing their documentary Much Ado About W: Art Wars of Santa Barbara (2007), they co-wrote and co-directed this farce.  They had the distinction of being the only Santa Barbara residents with a feature film in this year’s festival.  The story centers around Wilbur Waskowicks, an anger management therapist who needs counseling himself.  He advises others to ‘Hold your anger like a baby’ and be gentle and respectful of your feelings as you work through them.  The film follows several interrelated characters dealing with frustrated anger – some of which is reaction to Wilbur’s childish, spiteful actions.  Thus the comedy.  One of the film’s funniest scenes is when Wilbur’s new assistant and lover, Francesca, enact a most unromantic sex scene.  A clock has never been funnier. 

Everest: A Climb for Peace

Photo: Photo courtesy of The Everest Peace Project –

Unlike other documentaries about that gigantic challenge called Mount Everest, this film traces another seemingly insurmountable challenge overlaid onto the physical mountainous one:  Muslims and Jews working together in a cooperative mission to tackle the summit of Mount Everest.  To watch these men becoming friends and knowing, as the end credits reveal, that they must go back to taking sides in the Middle East, is sobering.  It’s a powerful climb for peace and makes you wonder why there is so much hatred in the world.  Directed by Lance Trumbull and narrated by Orlando Bloom, the film’s tag line should be passed along here:  “‘It’s thru actions of peace that peace is spread.’  Help spread the peace.”

(Note: On October 23, 2010 Everest: A Climb for Peace premieres Nationwide on Public Television (PBS). It will be showing on many different PBS stations over the next 3 years! If it is not in your area on the 23rd friend Everest on Facebook to stay updated on screening times and dates. become a fan of The Everest Peace Project on Facebook and stay updated - and be the first to hear about upcoming treks, expeditions, TV screenings and the latest EPP news!)

Inventing LA: The Chandlers and their Times

This historical documentary (Peter Jones, director) follows the evolution of The Los Angeles Times newspaper through the people who owned and ran it for more than a century.  It’s a fascinating inside look at the men and women who were born or married into theChandlers and how their socio-economic positions and times shaped them and the newspaper.  An important lesson here is that the media – even the ostensibly ‘objective’ American news media – is always, first and foremost, a moneymaking enterprise. 

War against the Weak

This is a powerful, detailed documentary (Justin Strawhand, director) on the eugenics movement in the U.S. in the first decades of the 20th century and its culmination in Nazi atrocities.  Eugenics, a philosophy that gained some currency in the U.S. in the first decades of the 20th century, asserted that ‘negative’ racial traits could be discouraged and ‘positive’ traits encouraged in the creation of a ‘better’ human species.  It was the writings of American eugenics proponents that influenced men who came to power in Nazi Germany.  But if you think the eugenics attitude toward humanity disappeared with the Nazis, think again...

Five Short Films

Anatomy of Numbers

Photo: Tim Frank as Patrick (left) and Jessica Bennett as Emma. Courtesy of Erin Cantelo

What I liked about this short was the gender reversal of typical images and expectations for a woman and man in a relationship – the woman has had several more lovers than the man even though they’re about the same age.  It’s the man who has to deal with sexual insecurity.

The entire film is their discussion in bed, including sensual embracing.  This was directed by a woman, Erin Cantelo, willing to create characters and plot not in line with traditional gender images.  I like that.


Great computer animation from Michael Stern, one of the artists who worked on Kung Fu Panda.  Appropriately enough, Distraxion served as the opening short for the festival’s special screening of Kung Fu Panda.  This short uses primarily jazz – with some hard rock at the end – as creatively animated musicians come to life when two employees battle it out over a blaring stereo rocking an office. 

The Early Worm

This amusing ditty from Ray Pivato is truly Murphy’s Law.  Early for his meeting, one very unlucky guy bounces from one unfortunate accident to the next – I lost count of his mishaps – as he makes his way through the streets of Santa Barbara.  Ouch.  And more ouch.

En Route

This short features a sweet ending to a mysterious fast car and driver.  It follows the stops, starts, and turns as a man races through thick and thin with a briefcase on his front seat.  The filmmaker, Karl Mefford, wants you guess.  Is there perhaps a bomb in that case?  Turns out it’s ‘Get me to the church on time’ for a wedding.  His precious cargo?  A wedding ring.  A fast car tale turned out to be a romance.

A Room for Sarah

Set around 1920, this film was made to look like it’s a film of that era.  It’s silent and black and white, complete with title cards, melodramatic music, old image quality, and overdone facial expressions.  It’s about a woman taking action to escape nasty relatives as we see suffrage messages in the background admonishing women to take action to win the vote.  Yet Sarah lands right next to a man not seen in any previous scene – is this her beau she’s been trying desperately to join or director Ginger Swanson’s comment on gender roles and women’s expectations for themselves?

SBIFF 2009 Index

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