Clinking Glasses & Global Visions: The 2011 Santa Barbara International Film Festival – Feature

Santa Barbara circulates in the stratosphere of the now. The reasoning which motivates it in many circles screams Oscar which gives the arena itself a certain precedence. But while the glitz and glamour of the film festival with such honorees as Christopher Nolan and Nicole Kidman looms heavily, the aspect of smaller and little seen films balances the progression in a wonderfully cathartic and compelling way.

Certain films offer a sense of character study with a voracious entertainment value as was inherently the case with “Good For Nothing” a New Zealand Western with an inherently American bent playing to the ideals of the Spaghetti Western. Anchored by a dark venting portrayal of “The Man” played by Cohen Calloway, the film follows a path of a young British maiden (emblazoned with great strength and texture by Inge Rademeyer) set adrift on the shores of the Old West only to be kidnapped by the cowboy in question. Buoyed by a wonderful balance of humor as well as a distinct brutality of the time period rarely seen in films, the narrative follows Western intentions while remaining remarkably modern distinctly due to a steady hand in the eye of director Mike Wallis. Add to this, the gripping vistas of a New Zealand as America rarely seen as well as a lush score, “Good For Nothing” offers distinct treasures in its future.

On the other side of the metaphoric coin, “Light In Darkness” plays with an abandon that, while at times confusing in terms of narrative, functions as a complete fun and sultry rock n’ roll allegory of a bandit on the loose in the modern decadence of Brazil. Harking back with a bossa nova style but with the inherent coolness of “Last Tango” and Jean Luc Goddard, the emotional adrenalin the film plays with volleys with a sense of liveliness that reflects the very best of early Almodovar riveting a vicious sensuality, a reckless danger and an inherent intelligence that revels in its own manueverability.

Continuing from this structure other films approached with different abilities and textures owing both homage and a sense of identity.

Angels & Airwaves Present Love“, a long gestating would-be music video-like project evolved over a sequence of five years as both director Will Eubank and the band itself (spearheaded by Tom DeLonge) worked on this inherently esoteric but experimental journey. Balanced in quarter spurts between glossy vibrant Civil War set pieces contrasted with the lonely remnants of a ISS astronaut abandoned at his post, the film functions in an almost eerie subsection of a man lost in his mind but unable to succumb to his sense of finite mortality. The world premiere crowd, distinctly younger than most of the rest of the festivalgoers, traveled from hours away to experience the film which is a true testament to the power still of music over the youth.

“Fire Of Conscience” and “Red Light Revolution” populated a cross-section of the “East x West” substructure with less persistence than in recent years. ”

Fire“, a contemporary noir action thriller from the mind of Dante Lam, reflects the inherent commercial possibility of Hong Kong filmmakers with a film that makes many of the new icons in Hollywood pale in comparison. While an auteur like Christopher Nolan still travels leaps and bounds above, the efficiency and dexterity of films like this with an ideal of both drama and action are fewer and farther between. While the ending sequence pushes its credibility, its pace still purveys with an exceptional mirth.

Red Light” by comparison, tries, like last year’s comedy from South Korea: “Daytime Drinking”, to balance the idea of Eastern culturalism with a new conceptualization of Westernism infused by both consumerism and a sense of non-traditionalism. The idea here rests with the idea of a young professional, out of options, fired from his job and thrown out by his wife [who has left him for an actor of all things].

The intersection of much of the rest of the films at the festival perceives in aspects of certain trevails of characters. Unlike however some of the vicious sociological tendencies of last year’s Eastern Bloc pictures, the amount of intensity failed to shine through in an overwhelming fashion.

“A Horrible Way To Die” envisioned, in its wanton way, a psychological viewpoint of a serial killer in transition from an inherently American point-of-view. While the main character is structured as an otherwise obvious proponent, the stylized verite progression seems to clash against its instincts like a horror director overcompensating for a lack of motivation. The revelry needs to rest in the fear of the people attacked. The resolute image of copycat killers is an interesting approach and provides the most interesting of the protagonist’s resolve but it ultimately interrelates to nothing.

“Dance Marathon”, like last year’s entry “Fathers & Guns”, takes a inherently foreign element employed in smaller towns to encourage unity and flips it with a conceptual twist. Using two bumbling thieves trying to take prize money from a dance competition, this would-be comedy tries its hands at magic realism by predicating the two knaves as messengers of God who have no idea of their actual power. Within this structure, a man bent on true love happens upon a singer that it is out of his reach and subsequently beds her. The resolution is romantic if not formulaic lending more to a poor man’s “Strange Brew” than a Hollywood rom-com.

The Double Hour” weathers the fray with an intentionally more intellectual approach wandering for the hook with a bit of intention. Using a woman’s skewed perception of her life and reflecting it within a dream (which might or might not be) shows an intensity of thinking. While the filmmaking style in essence is overwhelmingly subdued, this narrative device (which has been employed in other similar films) still succeeds in its ability to engage the audience without being overwhelmingly original or dexterious.

“Face To Face”, a mediation-based film adaptation from director Michael Rymer: the secret strength behind “Battlestar Galactica” [he directed most of the series] returns the helmer to his indie roots where the intention is not explosions but taking the abilities of actors and moderating tone. Essentially a stage play shot in the same room with cut aways of various emotional outbursts, the key is to moderate the feelings of the different characters changing the perspectives without changing the outlook. In terms of this approach, the success is undeniably visible though, despite its response in a larger theater, seems more appropriate for the small screen.

“The Great Vazquez”, like a similar short seen at the Miami Short Film Festival earlier this winter, uses the possibilities of its lead character as a con man/schemer with a heart of gold. Bounding between women, money and glamour, the shiny almost Faustian frivolity of the character begets a messy ending despite his best intentions to create chaos. What distinctifies the man is his carefree personification of what responsibility should actually be set against a post modern backdrop where the incessant trickery seems to make everything more vibrant.

The next films, incumbent of isolation within the resolute whole, create distinct ideals in their possibilities.

“King’s Road” delivering a vision of village life in Iceland shows a minimalistic trial of errors and eccentricities where the monotony of modern life (without the electronics) has become one of inevitable game. A young man returns from a failed nightclub business with an enforcer on his tail posing as a friend. His would-be father is trying to a be a big shot in a place where no one cares. Grandma, meanwhile, is hanging with hoodlums and smoking weed in a broke old jalopy with a killer sound system. The amount of care taken in generating speeding ticket details the level of intention interspersing the entire country within the camera’s view.

“Limbo” takes a more personalized approach detailing the relocation of a family from Norway to join the father of the household at his oil engineering job in Trinidad. What precipitates is the new texture of family dynamics in the modern world from a perspective in Norway where localization is key. While love still exists for the couple and their children, the difference in the idealogy that pulled them together forces them apart. Another couple on the move for many years, one of them played with exceptional poise by Bryan Brown (of “Cocktail” fame) present the future betrayal of the life that awaits them, cold and aimless but full of baubles.

“Tilt” examines the Russian youth of the late Cold War era with a much more severe tenacity. Under the siege of the Soviet state, they had nothing but being young, their ambition outweighed their mode of responsibility. In pirating pornography for local consumption under the wing of a slightly older and more experienced businessman, they are raided and expunged, not undue for one of the gang falling for a colonel’s daughter. The film in its rawness and simplicity reminds one of a retelling of “Kids” from a slightly more mature point of view. The kids are allowed to sneak out of the country but never to return which betrays a tendency of nationalism when their leader returns home to claim the girl he loves. The reality distinctifies itself when he finds her shacking up with his would-be best friend who betrayed them for success. The resolution, bloody as it should be, reaffirms the identity of true revolutionaries while reflecting the darkness of the resulting beat down.

The opening and closing films reflected more of a linear storytelling method allowing for a texture of wanton moviemaking not necessary for possibility but for form.

Sarah’s Key“, which opened the festival, resides in the fact of a woman created by her situation who ultimately succumbs to her perceived futility in her own survival. The film, offered in an interesting bilingual structure for Kristin Scott Thomas, ultimately frails in its overall believability despite a heavily enthused audience who were ardent fans of the bestselling book.

Carmen 3D” closed the festivities painting to the idea of newfound technology leading the way for more open minds. While the possibilities of seeing a stage performance like this on the big screen are riveting, there is no substitution for the real thing though the discussion made with the filmmakers and exhibitors over breakfast the morning of the premiere drifted into the fractionality that a certain amount of the populace would rather see the performance this way.

Parties reigned both VIP and normal with a sense of vision. The Chopin Lounge before the tributes bathed in a sense of elegant vigor as their new Rye Red introduced at the festival played smooth with lamb skewers and scallop shooters pervading galore.

The Opening Night party within the realms of the Paseo Nuevo Mall continued with a sense of overall community as food from up and down State Street gave way to the inherent photo booths. Within the VIP section upstairs, the art installation reflected in shadows as partygoers peered from room to room.

The Christopher Nolan tribute, heavily attended and buoyed in the director’s accomplishments (especially with his recent “Inception”), reflected in his openness within the asked question of “how to see the vision and then realize the vision” which is always key to accepting what is real and what is simply illusion in the filmmaking process. The VIP after party at Union Ale persisted with a great sense of balance as both Nolan and his wife/producer Emma Thomas stayed until the very end speaking with both fans and board members alike.

Annette Bening in accepting her Riviera Award stood beaming next to her husband Warren Beatty who watched with undeniable pride, his love for her never in question. The process, she spoke in retrospect, reflects in her a confidence but not an arrogance since the aspect of revealing a character is discovery.

Nicole Kidman reflected the most vulnerable in accepting her Vanguard Award while still maintaining her grace and power. Her teasing comments rang true especially upon the viewing of a key scene in “Eyes Wide Shut” which still remains one of her most powerful while “The Hours” she admits she almost backed out of because she was depressed despite its overall vehemence which garnered her an Oscar.

The Vanguard VIP After Party waxed elegant as the wine maintained its poignancy and Kidman received praise with almost Victorian intensity. Swirling away from the moment to the nearby atrium party, the swirling smells of pasta and swordfish steak painted the fountain center with a sense of anticipation which led from shots to the dance floor. Spinning with a flurry of beautiful red dressed mosquitos, the energy continued with a pestilence both exhilerating and exhausting.

The reflective dance floor continued with closing night at Eos which will not as festive and encompassing as long favorite El Paseo in its full Spanish American glory highlighted the persisting vision of keeping the energy both focused and critical as the Santa Barbara International Film Festival should be.

Steering The Battlestar: Michael Rymer @ Digital Hollywood – Summer 09


A little series called “Battlestar Galactica” redefined what TV can be in terms of entertainment vs. social commentary. One of the underrated architects of this cultural milestone is the director of most of its episodes: Michael Rymer.

Sitting down for a conversation at Digital Hollywood as a last minute addition, Rymer (who has not done many of these) offered a grail in sea of treasures for he holds part of the key to the success of this cross cultural milestone.

To start from the beginning, Rymer was born in Melbourne Australia and like most would-be filmmakers started off making Super 8 films and eventually went to USC Film School in Los Angeles. His first film was about two scitzophrenics that fall in love. Filmmaking was a process but he wanted to have a life along the way. He had some heat from this first project and a gangster movie he did for Miramax. Rymer had also wanted to remake “Dune”. He thought the David Lynch original wasn’t very good. He also wanted to make “The Vampire Lestat”, the sequel to “Interview With A Vampire” but ended up making “Queen Of The Damned” instead. He says that the eventual film that transpired wasn’t the one he set out to make. He said he learned some big lessons making that film specifically to fight the battles as you go.

After that, Rymer was offered a pilot called “The Haunted” with Matthew Fox (before he hit it big on “Lost”). Then he got the miniseries script for “Battlestar Galactica”. He read it in one four-hour sitting. He says the genesis had David Eick originally involved who then brought in Ron Moore who came up with a way to write and pitch it. He said that the conversation constantly on set revolved around digital media but that it always came back to character and getting that right first. Certain characters weren’t supposed to become as important as they did. One of the reasons he said that the show was so creatively successful was that there was a lot of listening going on. Although he didn’t like the experience of being a series writer, he learned on “Battlestar” to see the perspective a little more from the writer’s point of view.

For all intents and purposes, Rymer sees “Galatica” essentially as a space opera which by definition is melodrama set on spaceships. The moment, he says, you ignore the issue of gravity, it becomes a contrivance. You have to accept the reality. In this case, the buoyancy was held by the allegory for war.

The company tackled every issue they could and Rymer says that they got brownie points for just trying to do it. They couldn’t get away with half the stuff they did. The tougher the world environment, according to Rymer, the more people want to escape. There are many good films about Iraq, he says, that no one wanted to see. But people would watch “Battlestar”.

In terms of progression of story, Rymer does admit he misses “slow” in films and television. He misses the time it takes to tell a good story. In the “Battlestar” miniseries, they had an hour to set up the characters. The original script was two hours. The eventual edit was 4 but they got it down to 3. This continued into the series which allowed for an interesting pace. With Ron Moore’s blueprint, nothing would happen for three episodes and then there would be 15 events in an hour. A good example is when you find out that four of your most beloved characters are Cylons. The scene involved at least three or four minutes for them to talk about it.

Rymer always shot extra material. In his words, Rymer says that Ron Moore “doesn’t dick around” with story. If it doesn’t add up, you have to dazzle with light and motion. Normally you are dealing, he says, with a script to move it forward. With Moore, it was about filling in the connective tissue between the blanks.

Rymer also made sure to single out composer Bear McCready who he says did an amazing job over the years. Bear was serving something else from writers and directors who have no understanding of music and lifted the show to new heights from his perspective.

Rymer doesn’t like to pick favorites among the cast but he does single out Michael Hogan who played Colonel Tigh. Rymer says that he can watch anything Hogan does. The way Hogan envisioned the character, according to Rymer, was so broad and theatrical and yet so real and true. Many actors get away with underplaying it but that was not Hogan’s style.

Rymer does believe we are in another golden age of television because right now TV is where the writers live. Television also right now has the canvas that feature films, in his mind, don’t seem to have. Rymer loved the old miniseries style because of their long form stories. Feature films in today’s age by comparison, to him, seem too contrived in their current state.

At the time of this conversation, Rymer had directed almost 40 hours of drama and in high quality although he admits that he could see on procedurals shows being bogged down by the structure…but not on “Battlestar”.

Rymer then talks that he did the miniseries and then the episode “33” [considered by many to be the finest episode]. But the first episode he did after that [“Water”], he says wasn’t great. He admits that not every episode is going to be as strong as another. He uses this to broach the subject of the webisodes which at times were being done off in the corner. His perspective is that some things in the webisodes didn’t gel with Battlestar proper so it was good to keep them separate.

When asked about the ending of the series, Rymer will only say that he applauded the decision. The answers still remain a mystery. Some people might have been upset that they didn’t get a particular issue. However with his favorite movies, Rymer says, he couldn’t tell you what happened at the end.

Another issue addressed involved the mid season finale of Season 4 where the Battlestar crew lands on Earth and finds the planet decimated. Rymer says that it was a pretty dramatic move. At that point, they had 10 more episodes to resolve this and they were on the cusp of the writer’s strike. The writer’s strike could have gone on for six months. They were all on the beach location and the cast thought it was the last day of the show. They all went off and drank, having a good time. There was alot of syncronicity he says on that day between Jamie/Baltar and Katee/Starbuck specifically. Ron wanted to guarantee the 4th and 5th season. Sci Fi Channel played chicken with Ron and told him that Season 4 would be it. Rymer admits they were floundering in the ratings. He does believe if they went beyond where they ended, the quality would have diminished. Most of the actors, he believed, had played out their archs. They were happy to end it when they did. He says that they were lucky with what they got. Ron liked “The Sopranos” but Rymer didn’t want to end it on that day.

Rymer also mentions that he had just done the commentary for the season finale while he was in Mexico and Ron [Moore] and David [Eick] were drinking tequila somewhere else. They shot the finale nearly a year ago. The DVD of the finale is nearly 45 minutes longer than what was shown. The only thing that Rymer will say is that “Apocalypse Now Redux” wasn’t the right thing.

“Battlestar” was a battle in itself that resulted because of a great creative team in a singular movie event that both trascended and lived up to its legacy due in no small part to the dexterity and perseverance of its major director, Michael Rymer.