As we head into a New Year and pave our way forward in 2017, I’d like to take pause to recognize our successes of 2016, including our decision to acquire the Riviera Theatre – a major turning point for SBIFF. Our new home will allow us to expand and to further engage, enrich, and inspire people through the power of film on a year-round basis.
The first quarter of 2016 marked one of the most unforgettable Festivals. SBIFF continues to be an incredible education platform where Oscar-winning and nominated industry leaders, independent filmmakers, fans, and students gather to celebrate and learn. All of us at SBIFF are honored to provide a world-class festival where thousands of visitors and local residents of all ages participate, right here in our hometown.
We expanded our film series The Showcase, and launched two new education programs: (1) Film Camp – a partnership with the United Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County that teaches filmmaking and film appreciation to middle and high school students; and (2) Programs for Seniors – a partnership with Easy Lift Transportation that provides a fun movie-going experience for transit dependent seniors.
We also had another tremendous year of Cinema Society and treated our community to the latest Hollywood films, and welcomed some of the world’s most talented filmmakers working today: Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals; Damien Chazelle – La La Land; Jeff Nichols – Loving; Kevin Costner – Hidden Figures; Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water; Pablo Larraín – Jackie, Neruda; and Denis Villeneuve – Arrival.
The 11th Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film was the most successful in our history. We honored legend Warren Beatty and celebrated Kirk Douglas’ 100th Birthday – raising more money than ever to benefit our education programs.
2016’s highlight is undoubtedly SBIFF’s acquisition of the Riviera Theatre in the form of a 30-year lease, to build a 24/7 cultural hub for all things film. SBIFF’s capital campaign – The Riviera Project – was launched in September to raise the necessary funds to support theatre renovations and expansion of our programs. Thanks to our generous supporters – in just a few months – we’ve raised $3.7 million of our $5 million goal to be raised by March 2017.
In the coming year, we’re further expanding our many education programs that currently serve 20,000 individuals, families and children – many from vulnerable and underserved populations. The renovation of the Riviera Theatre will enable SBIFF to increase participation in nearly all of our education programs so that they are offered on a year-round basis.
Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies will operate year-found and increasing participation by 87% to reach 7,500 Title 1 schools.
The Rosebud Program will increase participation by 150%.
The AppleBox Family Films will also operate year-round, increasing participation by 43% to 11,500 children and families.
The new Programs for Seniors will serve 1,200.
To ensure that we fulfill our important educational mission, a full time Education Director will come on board. Amanda Graves is starting the first week of 2017.
There are many ways to support SBIFF and the Riviera Project – all donations are 100% tax deductible:
This one is at the top of the list for my must-see, year-ending films for 2016!
Posted by Larry Gleeson
NERUDA is a fireworks display of a movie about poetry and politics – directed by brilliant Chilean director Pablo Larrain who also directed this year’s JACKIE. Just like the latter film, NERUDA – about the Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Pablo Neruda, this film is not your typical biography. Do not miss one of the best foreign films you’re likely to see this year.
Pablo Larraín’s ‘Neruda’ is a richly imagined biographical fantasia
By Justin Chang – Los Angeles Times
“Neruda,” an intoxicating puzzle of a movie directed by Pablo Larraín, chronicles a strange, harrowing episode from the late 1940s, when the Chilean government’s crackdown on communism drove the great poet and politician Pablo Neruda underground. Specifically, the film unravels the tricky game of cat-and-mouse between Neruda and an ambitious police inspector named Oscar Peluchonneau, who sought to track down the dissident artist whose writings had struck a dangerously resonant chord with the working class.
There was, in fact, no Oscar Peluchonneau — or at least, none who fits the description blithely concocted by Larraín and his screenwriter, Guillermo Calderon. The charm of “Neruda” lies in its insistence that there may well have been, and that it scarcely matters if there wasn’t. Drolly and persuasively, the movie demonstrates that when it comes to evoking the artist and the nature of his art, historical fidelity and literal-minded dramatization go only so far. Fiction, lovingly and imaginatively rendered, can bring us much closer to the truth.
“We must dream our way,” Neruda once wrote, and it is nothing short of enchanting to encounter a biographical drama that, rather than merely shoving that quote into its protagonist’s mouth, treats it as a guiding aesthetic and philosophical principle. Like (and yet completely unlike) “I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes’ fragmented 2007 cine-riff on Bob Dylan, “Neruda” is less a straightforward portrait of a great contemporary poet (and eventual Nobel laureate) than a rigorously sustained investigation of his inner world.
Although informed by the busy workings of history, politics and personal affairs, “Neruda” proceeds like a light-footed chase thriller filtered through an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” by the end of which the audience is lost in a crazily spiraling meta-narrative. Who exactly is the star and author of that narrative is one of the film’s more enticing mysteries.
Initially it seems both roles must be filled by Pablo Neruda, played with prickly, preening brilliance by Luis Gnecco (“Narcos”), who donned a wig and gained more than 50 pounds to achieve his remarkable physical resemblance to the real deal. The key to the performance is that, despite the shimmering inspiration of Neruda’s poetry, neither Gnecco nor Larraín seems to feel any obligation to make Neruda himself a particularly inspiring figure.
From the opening scene, a political gathering wittily set in an enormous public lavatory, Neruda, a senator and member of the Chilean Communist Party, is shown to be a proud and vociferous critic of his country’s leadership. But in the very next sequence, a lavish party crammed with half-naked revelers, the film presents the idea of Neruda as a Champagne socialist — a vain, hedonistic hypocrite who, like so many left-wing elites, loves “to soak up other people’s sweat and suffering.”
That damning bit of mockery is delivered by the aforementioned detective, Oscar Peluchonneau (played with mustachioed elan by Gael García Bernal), who slyly complicates the film’s notions of authorship and agency. When Chilean President Gabriel González Videla (Alfredo Castro) outlaws communism in 1948, responding to mounting Cold War anxieties, Peluchonneau eagerly leads the manhunt for Neruda, who has gone into hiding in the port city of Valparaíso with his second wife, the painter Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán, excellent).
Many of the individual scenes in “Neruda” serve a fairly clear narrative purpose. We see the poet consorting with his allies, arguing with his wife, and disobeying his party-appointed bodyguard (Michael Silva) to slip out for a frolic at a nearby brothel or bohemian enclave. We rarely see him writing, though his poems are shown being secretly distributed and playing a huge role in keeping the communist movement alive underground. But even these relatively simple moments are transformed and complicated by the sheer audacity of Larraín’s stylistic conceits.
In the hands of the editor Hervé Schneid, an extended conversation between two people might span three or four different locations, transporting the viewer without warning from a private room to a perch overlooking the Chilean countryside. Elsewhere, Sergio Armstrong’s sensuous digital photography evokes the mood of the past even as it encourages us to view the film as a formalist construct, from the faded, purplish coloration of the images to the use of phony-looking rear projection in the driving scenes.
In one of Larraín and Calderon’s most telling flourishes, it is Peluchonneau who provides the film’s running voice-over commentary, often in contrapuntal harmony with Neruda’s journey. The two men are almost never seen in the same frame, and yet the ever-mobile camera seems to ping-pong restlessly between them, as though blurring them into one shared, active consciousness.
Peluchonneau’s words may be sardonic and self-flattering, but as the film advances and his own footing in the narrative begins to shift, they also take on their own mysterious, downright Nerudian poetry. (A few verses from his posthumously published “For All to Know” might seem appropriate here: “I am everybody and every time/I always call myself by your name.”)
“Neruda’s” formal spryness and nontraditional appreciation of history will come as little surprise to admirers of “Jackie,” Larraín’s other great bio-experiment of the moment, or his 2012 drama, “No,” a compelling snapshot of the end of the Augusto Pinochet regime that also starred Bernal (with Gnecco and Castro in prominent supporting roles). His filmography, which includes such festival-acclaimed favorites as “Tony Manero,” “Post Mortem” and “The Club,” has sealed his reputation as one of the most distinctive and continually surprising talents in world cinema, though nothing he’s done to date has forced him to take such intuitive leaps, to abandon realism so completely, as “Neruda.”
Unspooling the picture earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, Larraín confessed that, even after making the movie, he wasn’t at all sure he knew who Neruda was. And in a typically counter-intuitive gesture, “Neruda” doesn’t pretend to know, either. It keeps the man at a playful distance, firm in its belief that the art will sustain our interest, long after the passing of the artist and his historical moment. It’s possible that Pablo Neruda himself would have concurred with this sentiment, though Oscar Peluchonneau might have begged to differ.
Before getting to Mr. Durling’s note, I saw this film yesterday. It’s an extraordinary effort from the South Korean Director Park Chan-Wook. Already an admirer of his now seemingly classic works of Old Boy (2003), and Lady Vengence (2005), I experienced an entirely new level of his artistic craft with The Handmaiden. Mesmerizing and undaunting with a raw, creative, narrative flair, Mr. Park delivers an explosive human drama – thrilling and compelling. Park’s best work to date. (See below review by Manohla Dargis, The New York Times)
“Far too good to be watched in one sitting,” exclaims the Philadelphia Inquirer about THE HANDMAIDEN, and I couldn’t agree more. Gorgeous, classical, and erotic, I don’t think you’ll see a more delicious film this year. If you love cinema AT ALL, you have to see THE HANDMAIDEN. It’s the visual equivalent of drinking champagne!
Below find the New York Times Review. It plays tonight (Tuesday) at 5:00pm, tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7:30pm, and next Sunday through Wednesday at the Riviera Theatre.
‘The Handmaiden’ Explores Confinement in Rich, Erotic Textures
By Manohla Dargis – The New York Times
The art of the tease is rarely as refined as in “The Handmaiden.” Set in Korea in the 1930s, this amusingly slippery entertainment is an erotic fantasy about an heiress, her sadistic uncle, her devoted maid and the rake who’s trying to pull off a devilishly elaborate con. The same could be said of the director Park Chan-wook, whose attention to voluptuous detail — to opulent brocades and silky robes, luscious peaches and creamy shoulders — turns each scene into an invitation to ooh, aah and mmm. This is a movie that tries to ravish your senses so thoroughly you may not notice its sleights of hand.
It’s not for nothing that one of its heroines, Sookee (Kim Tae-ri), is a pickpocket, though that’s getting ahead of her story. It opens with Sookee weepily saying goodbye to some adults and wailing children, their gushing matched by the torrential rain. She’s off to work for Lady Hideko (a sensational Kim Min-hee), a pale beauty who lives with her tyrannical uncle, Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), a collector and purveyor of art and rare erotic books whose darting tongue has turned black from his ink pen. The realms of his bibliophilic senses are suggested when a client asks if one of his books is by the Marquis de Sade. “It’s Sade-esque,” the uncle says, all but winking at the audience.
The kinks grow more outré and twisted, the winks dirtier and broader. The uncle has raised Hideko from childhood, away from the world, intending to wed her for her fortune. He’s also turned her into a puppet, having trained her to read erotic fiction aloud for the delectation of his potential customers. Fate in the form of the con man (Ha Jung-woo) intervenes. Disguised as a count, he insinuates himself into the uncle’s home and seemingly into the niece’s affection, enlisting Sookee in the ruse as Hideko’s new maid. The count plans to marry Hideko and then ditch her, a plan that seems doomed when Sookee and Hideko’s lady-maid intimacy steams and then boils over.
The inspiration for all this intrigue is Sarah Waters’s ambitious 2002 novel, “Fingersmith,” a lesbian romance set in Victorian Britain in which she slyly has her way with established literary themes like avaricious male guardians and cloistered female wards. In adapting the movie, Mr. Park, who wrote the script with Chung Seo-kyung, has moved the story to Korea during the Japanese occupation. This setting initially seems more thread than cloth, conveyed in the smatterings of soldiers who pass through the story and in the mixing of languages, although it also factors into the villainy of the uncle, a Korean who’s embraced a Japanese identity, asserting, “Korea is ugly and Japan is beautiful.”
Mr. Park is a genre virtuoso, known for thrillers like “Oldboy,” whose filmmaking is notable for its visual order and extreme violence, a combination that creates a seductive, at times unsettling aesthetic of immaculate frenzy. The violence in “The Handmaiden” tends to be more restrained than in some of his other work, more psychological and rather less blunt and bloody. A notable exception is some sadomasochistic whip-work that’s far more vigorous than is found in, oh, say, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” There’s also a characteristic Grand Guignol flourish toward the end that’s outrageous enough that you may find yourself at once laughing and gasping, only to hastily avert your eyes.
It’s one of the rare times you want to look away in “The Handmaiden,” which Mr. Park has turned into an emporium of visual delights. Part of Sookee’s journey is one from perdition into opulence, from a lowly thieves’ den into the sumptuousness of the mansion. Yet appearances remain deceiving, which is one of this story’s themes. Everything inside the manor and out has been calculated to enchant, from the grounds with their carpets of green and bursts of flowering trees to the interiors with their wood paneling and floral wallpaper. Nothing is more perfect than Hideko’s petal mouth with its lusciously carnal red lipstick.
Yet beauty can be a curse; a prison, too. Hideko’s uncle has forbidden her to leave the grounds, turning her into a bird in a gilded cage. Under his steady gaze and severe hand, with the ever-present threat of violence (there are rightfully ominous allusions to a basement), she has been raised amid material plenty with luxuriously appointed rooms as well as drawers and shelves stuffed with elegant feminine frippery — gloves, hats, gowns. Mr. Park loves displaying all these goods, much like a proud merchant (or Gatsby), even as moment by moment he pushes the narrative into ugliness, scratching off the gilt to reveal a grim drama in which Hideko plays both the leading lady and slave.
Mr. Park’s attention to this world’s sumptuous surfaces at first can seem at odds with the underlying evil, as if — like the uncle — he were putting his aesthetic sensibility above all else. Mr. Park just seems to be enjoying himself too much, as the camera glides over satiny robes and bodies or pauses on an exquisite tableau. In one such display, as another of the uncle’s confined women narrates a tale, two shoji screens behind her part, an opening that mirrors the sexual conquest she’s relating. Yet Mr. Park also slips in little jokes, comic line readings and clownish faces that ease the tension, lighten the mood and suggest there’s freedom in laughing into the void.
The void is by turns enslaving and emancipating in “The Handmaiden,” which plays with familiar form as a way to deliver unexpected meaning. A rebus, a romance, a gothic thriller and a woozy comedy, “The Handmaiden” is finally and most significantly a liberation story. Mr. Park may not seem to be doing all that much with the big ideas simmering here, including how the relentless pursuit of aesthetic perfection — especially when it comes to inherently imperfect human beings — can serve as a means of terror. But the ideas are here, tucked into a different kind of erotic story, one that alternately jolts and delights as Sookee and Hideko laugh their way to a new ending.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling will be presented with the 2017 Outstanding Performers of the Year award on Friday, February 3rd, 2017for their performances in La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash). This is Stone’s first time being honored by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). Gosling was the inaugural recipient of the Cinema Vanguard Award in 2008.
The tribute, which will take place at Santa Barbara’s historic Arlington Theatre, will be moderated by SBIFF’s Executive Director Roger Durling. The 32nd annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival will take place from Wednesday, February 1 through Saturday, February 11. Click here to attend.
Durling stated, “Ryan and Emma’s luminous performances in La La Land remind us of the transformative and magical role of cinema. We are so proud to celebrate them and this incredible film and its nod to the classic love stories of Old Hollywood with a contemporary twist.”
Gosling and Stone will join a recognized group of previous Outstanding Performer Award recipients, including Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan, Steve Carell, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Viola Davis, James Franco, Colin Firth, Penelope Cruz, Angelina Jolie, Helen Mirren, Heath Ledger, Kate Winslet and Charlize Theron.
Written and directed by Academy Award® nominee Damien Chazelle, La La Land, set in modern day Los Angeles, tells the story of Mia (Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. (Source: sbiff.org)
‘Tower,’ About 1966, Before Mass Shootings Became Routine
By Manohla Dargis – The New York Times
The haunting documentary Tower revisits a 1966 mass shooting at the University of Texas at Austin that shocked the country. It may be difficult to comprehend the reaction to the horror of Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old student who shot more than a dozen dead, wounding more than twice as many. A cover story in Life magazine suggested just how alien the carnage seemed at the time, noting that during the rampage Whitman’s actions were “so outrageous, so hard to grasp, that people could not believe it.” Many more mass shootings later, it’s now tragically easy to believe.
You get a sense of just how brutal and absolutely foreign that violence must once have seemed in Tower. Directed by Keith Maitland, the movie is partly based on “96 Minutes,” an article by Pamela Colloff that ran in Texas Monthly in 2006, the 40th anniversary of the shooting. Most of the article was an oral history based on interviews that she skillfully pieced together for a mosaiclike remembrance. Mr. Maitland borrows this approach, drawing on first-person accounts, as well as archival and original sources. He’s also turned much of this material into walking, talking animations with the help of actors, an ingenious stroke that — at least at first — helps create some needed critical distance.
Whitman was one of the year’s big news stories alongside Vietnam. Time magazine put him on its cover, running a banner (“The Psychotic & Society”) across a photo of him — just another smiling guy in glasses — reading a newspaper, with a small dog at his side. In time, he was transformed into a popular culture touchstone in Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets, a 1968 thriller that drew on the incident; “The Ballad of Charles Whitman,” Kinky Friedman’s 1973 satirical song that frames the blood bath as an all-American story; and “The Deadly Tower,” a 1975 made-for-TV drama. By important contrast, Tower isn’t about Whitman; he isn’t its subject, star or selling point.
Tower also isn’t about why Whitman committed his atrocities or even how. There’s little information on him — his background, beliefs, history or health — in the documentary. His name is barely mentioned. He’s there throughout, though, represented as the unknown shooter in the frightened recordings of people phoning in reports; in police dispatch calls; in intermittent gunfire; and in the eerie puffs of gun smoke emanating from the university tower where he took position. He is a question mark, a lethal void whose immateriality makes an agonizing contrast to the men and women he shot, those who died as well as those who suffered and survived.
This shift in focus — from the perpetrator to the victims — doesn’t read as especially American or cinematic. (One of Hollywood’s most durable genres is the gangster movie, after all, not the victim picture.) And while there may be all sorts of sociopolitical and psychological explanations for why movies are so violent, it’s also just an easy way to keep people nervously waiting and watching. Mr. Maitland put in time as an assistant director on the TV series “Law & Order” and he understands how to narratively string out violence. The movie begins with Neal Spelce (Monty Muir), a journalist gutsily reporting from the scene while driving closer to it, an opener that creates instant tension.
The scene then shifts to Claire Wilson James (Violett Beane), a heavily pregnant freshman who is just finishing a coffee break with her boyfriend, Tom Eckman (Cole Bee Wilson). As they’re walking across campus, they are both hit. Claire goes down first, followed by Tom. They remain where they fall for an unbearably long time, creating a ghastly spectacle that becomes an emblematic tableau that Mr. Maitland returns to again and again, at times using news footage. He soon adds other victims and voices, including that of Aleck Hernandez Jr. (Aldo Ordoñez), a teenager on his paper route riding past the campus, his cousin perched on his bike.
The expressive animation was done via rotoscoping, a technique that involves tracing moving images by hand (as in Disney’s Snow White) or through software (as in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life). The results in Tower are extremely liquid, with each line incessantly ebbing and flowing, creating a vivid sense of life. The animation gives Mr. Maitland a lot of creative freedom, allowing him to take Expressionistic leaps. When Ms. James and Mr. Eckman are shot, their bodies briefly transform into wrenching, twisting white silhouettes while the backdrop becomes a blast of bright red. You are spared the blood, even as the horror creeps in and then floods you.
In her article, Ms. Colloff noted that, surprisingly, perhaps, outside of some bullet holes, there were no physical reminders of the shooting at the University of Texas until 1999, when the school created a memorial garden. “No plaques had ever been displayed, no list of names read, no memorial services held,” she wrote. In 2007, the school finally installed a plaque observing the shooting, and this Aug. 1, the 50th anniversary, it dedicated a new memorial. Using a limited frame, Mr. Maitland does his own commemorating, inherently raising questions about terror, the nature of heroism and what it means to really survive. He also does something even more necessary: He turns names on a plaque into people.
Before I get to Roger’s note, I have seen the film and, while it was released in 1967, the issues portrayed in the film are pertinent today. With a feel of direct cinema and cinema verite’, The Battle of Algiers is engaging and delivers a closeup view of terror, tactics and strategy. Highly recommended!
50 years ago, Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo released one of the greatest movies ever made – THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS. The film is a big-screen recreation of the bloody mid 1950s Algerian uprising against French rule. The film was shot on a low budget and used non-actors from Algiers. The fact that the point of view is from those colonized rattled the French government enough to ban the film. It went on to get three Oscar nominations including Best Director. The film is a masterpiece, and it has been restored in a gorgeous digital print. This film is so influential – and political thrillers filmed today borrow from Pontecorvo’s style.
THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS is as urgent and immediate as it was 50 years ago. Below find a wonderful essay by Justin Chang from the LA Times on the film’s importance. It plays tonight at 5:00pm and tomorrow at 7:30pm at the Riviera Theatre. I will highly encourage you to see this landmark film.
Once banned, ‘Battle of Algiers” smart, compassionate take on terror and rebellion resonates today
By Justin Chang – LA Times
For those who have seen “The Battle of Algiers,” Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterful 1966 panorama of political insurrection and urban anxiety, the title alone can summon forth indelible images of Algerian resistance. Three women sneak through the crowded casbah to plant bombs in public places. A revolutionary leader named Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag) waits quietly in the darkness as he’s surrounded by police. A triumphant throng of men and women shout and cheer amid a rising cloud of smoke as their hard-fought dream of independence has finally come to pass.
Buried amid all these defining moments is a calm, pivotal scene in which a French military chief named Col. Mathieu (Jean Martin) trains his soldiers to root out members of Algeria’s National Liberation Front, cautioning them to be discriminating in their search. “Are they all our enemies? We know they’re not,” he says of the Algerian locals. “But a small minority holds sway by means of terror and violence. We must deal with this minority in order to isolate and destroy it.”
It is difficult to read those words in isolation, divorced from their political and cinematic context, and not hear a shivery echo of recent headlines. You may have heard someone express a similar sentiment when parsing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or differentiating between Muslims and Islamists. However chilling Mathieu’s sentiments may be, they may strike you as a model of sensitivity compared with Donald Trump’s infamous remarks about the Muslim world — or, for that matter, his son Donald Jr.’s recent comparison of the Syrian refugee population to a bowl of selectively tainted Skittles.
Closer to home, the notion of a dangerous sub-minority feels painfully relevant to the ongoing clashes between police officers and unarmed black men in America. The latest fatalities in El Cajon, Calif.; Tulsa, Okla.; and Charlotte, N.C., suggest that when it comes to this cycle of senseless violence, too many cops — however vehemently they might deny it — still view great swaths of the African American population as a criminal menace by default. (Reviewing Pontecorvo’s film in 1967, then-New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote, “One may sense a relation in what goes on in this picture to what has happened in the Negro ghettos of some of our American cities more recently.”)
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that there has perhaps never been a better time to experience or re-experience “The Battle of Algiers,” which is commemorating its 50th anniversary with a digital 4K restoration that will appear in select theaters on Oct. 7 courtesy of Rialto Pictures. Then again, as history is always at pains to remind us, there has never been an inappropriate moment for a picture that so completely collapses the distance between now and then.
The movie’s tremendous dramatic urgency and sociopolitical currency can be attributed, in no small part, to its still-electrifying alchemy of form and content. Mimicking the jagged, caught-on-the-fly syntax of a ’50s black-and-white newsreel even as it moves with the propulsive sweep of a thriller, the movie seems to be everywhere at once, the camera capturing pockets of anxiety and unease even in broad daylight.
A dangerous armed movement rises from the shadows, yet with an insistently human face. Soldiers bound up the steps of the casbah, their footfalls echoed by the up-and-down rattlings of Ennio Morricone’s score. The omniscience of the film’s perspective and the fluidity of the editing ease us into the narrative yet slowly divest us of our moral bearings. The film is not just a relentlessly gripping entertainment but also a cinematic Rorschach blot, a moral miasma that tosses our sympathies this way and that.
Feared, loathed and loved over the last half-century, “The Battle of Algiers” won the Golden Lion at the 1966 Venice Film Festival and was later nominated for three Academy Awards (director, original screenplay and foreign-language film). It was deemed so incendiary in France that it was banned there for five years, and even afterward it has remained a magnet for controversy, often derided as an apologia or a blueprint for terrorism, rather than a call for common understanding.
It’s worth recalling that the last time “The Battle of Algiers” showed theatrically here was in 2004, during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A few months earlier, in 2003, the Pentagon hosted a private screening, advertised by a flier that touted the picture’s relevance: “How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.”
Whatever viewers at the time might have learned about how a Western imperialist power should or should not deal with a rapidly mounting, many-sided insurgency, those lessons seem positively quaint in light of the geopolitical crisis that looms before us at present, following the rise of Islamic State and the subsequent deadly attacks in Europe and the U.S. What might have once seemed a far-flung, local concern has spread far beyond Iraq to consume what feels like the world entire. Meanwhile, on a very different yet simultaneous front, the struggle for black justice at home continues, and for some Americans, its roots and motivations — and the cycles of brutality and unrest that emerge in its wake — are no less difficult to grasp.
Who is safe? Who is innocent? Why must they riot? Where will the next attack occur? Was that shooting or bombing the work of a terrorist, or just an unhinged mind? (And in the end, does it matter?) “The Battle of Algiers” offers no reassuring answers to these questions, but to watch the film, with its startlingly evenhanded treatment of both sides, is to experience the sort of mature intelligence and tough-minded compassion that makes you long to believe hope is still possible.
The film’s greatness was hardly preordained. In his essay for the 2004 Criterion Collection DVD release, British film lecturer and critic Peter Matthews recalls how “The Battle of Algiers” was originally conceived along more Hollywood-friendly lines, complete with a journalist hero (set to be played by Paul Newman) who would serve as an entry point for Western audiences. Fortunately, heeding the influence of their country’s neorealist masters, Pontecorvo and screenwriter Franco Solinas refused to make the Algerians a secondary presence in their own story. As Matthews writes, the filmmakers “knew that every artistic decision is simultaneously an ethical one.”
If the perspective of “The Battle of Algiers” still feels radically diffuse, its aesthetic choices have been more readily absorbed into the mainstream. A war film shot with bristling handheld urgency — like, say, Paul Greengrass’ “Bloody Sunday” and “Green Zone,” or Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” — is no longer compared to documentaries or newsreels; hyperkinetic Steadicam is simply par for the course. The use of untrained performers (Martin was the sole professional actor cast in Pontecorvo’s film) is no longer a novelty, even if most American films still rely on big-name stars and strong, relatable protagonists to lure audiences toward difficult subject matter.
The spirit of Pontecorvo’s filmmaking can be felt even in pictures with markedly different stylistic DNA. Picking up where “The Battle of Algiers” left off, Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent post-9/11 thrillers address the ground-level pressures of dealing with an insurgency (“The Hurt Locker”) and the morality of torture (“Zero Dark Thirty”). Clint Eastwood’s World War II drama “Letters From Iwo Jima,” though done in a much more classical register, feels no less powerful in its willingness to penetrate the mind-set of a side that we typically perceive as the enemy.
Ken Loach, who has long cited Pontecorvo’s influence, made perhaps his most “Algiers”-like effort with 2006’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” which also chronicled the tensions that flare between the occupiers (the British) and the occupied (the Irish). When Loach received the Palme d’Or at Cannes for the film, the words he spoke might as well have been a permanent epitaph for “The Battle of Algiers,” if “epitaph” is the right word for a film that refuses to die: “Maybe if we tell the truth about the past, we tell the truth about the present.”
A chilling nightmare plays out at a Titan II missile complex in Arkansas in September, 1980. A worker accidentally drops a socket, puncturing the fuel tank of an intercontinental ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead in our arsenal, an incident which ignites a series of feverish efforts to avoid a deadly disaster. Directed by Robert Kenner (FOOD, INC.) and based on the critically acclaimed book by Eric Schlosser (FAST FOOD NATION), COMMAND AND CONTROL is a minute-by-minute account of this long-hidden story. Putting a camera where there was no camera that night, Kenner brings this nonfiction thriller to life with stunning original footage shot in a decommissioned Titan II missile silo. Eyewitness accounts — from the man who dropped the socket, to the man who designed the warhead, to the Secretary of Defense— chronicle nine hours of terror that prevented an explosion 600 times more powerful than Hiroshima.
Here’s what critics are saying:
“Despite the high stakes, Command and Control is fun to watch, in the manner of good suspense thrillers and disaster films.”
– Chris Packham, Village Voice
“What gives Command and Control its urgency are both its wealth of information and the implications of its story.”
– Mark Jenkins, NPR
“The pace of the drama is riveting, as it jumps back through the decades to place the accident in the context of the nuclear arms race.”
– Joe McGovern, Entertainment Weekly
Screening at the Riviera Theatre
Sunday October 9 @ 2:00pm Monday October 10 @ 7:30pm Tuesday October 11 @ 5:00pm Wednesday October 12 @ 7:30pm
The Riviera Theatre is located at
2044 Alameda Padre Serra, Santa Barbara, CA
As wedding festivities get underway in a Bedouin village in Southern Israel, Jalila finds herself in the awkward position of hosting her husband Suliman’s marriage to a second, much younger wife. During the celebration, Jalila stumbles across her eldest daughter Layla’s involvement with a boy from her university—a strictly forbidden liaison that would shame the family. Burying the indignity of Suliman and his new bride living next door, Jalila also tries to contain Layla’s situation by clamping down on her. But Layla sees a different life for herself…
Written and Directed by Elite Zexer
Starring Khadija Alakel, Haitham Omari, Ruba Blal-Asfour, Lamis Ammar,
Country of Origin: Israel
Running Time: 87 min
Here’s what leading critics are saying:
“Critics’ Pick. Coursing with feeling – an ethnographic melodrama, rich in cultural specifics, but also universal longings.” – Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice
“One of the most-admired films at this year’s Sundance. A lovely, deeply affecting film.” – Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine
“A complex drama with characters to match. The choices (Zexer) makes in terms of visuals, tone and script establish her as a strong directorial presence.” – Kimber Myers, The Playlist
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) launched its Riviera Project Capital Campaign in Santa Barbara, California on September 22, 2016. The goal is to raise $5,000,000 by March 31, 2017.
The Riviera Capital Campaign comes on the heels of SBIFF’s recent announcement of its acquisition of Santa Barbara’s Riviera Theater with a new 30-year lease.
With unique timing and its dedication to bringing the finest selection of independent and international cinema to its audiences, SBIFF has positioned itself as one of the leading film festivals in the United States over the last 30 years. During this time SBIFF has expanded its operation to include a wide range of educational programming to fulfill its mission “to engage, enrich and inspire the Santa Barbara community through film.”
The Riviera Project is SBIFF’s capital campaign with the mission to create a cultural hub of all things film in Santa Barbara, for Santa Barbara.
Donations to The Riviera Project will help transform the Riviera Theatre into a state-of-the-art multi-purpose venue offering year-round programming. Renovations include:
World-Class Sound System
World-Class Projection System
Loop System for Hearing Impaired
Heating and Air Conditioning
Improvements for Panels, Workshops, Q&As
Balcony Lounge with New Elevator
For more information on being a part of the SBIFF’s continuing commitment to the transformative power of quality films, click here.
SBIFF is a 501(c)(3) non profit organization. Your donation to support The Riviera Project is 100% tax deductible.
Two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, USA) shines a powerful, inspiring and entertaining spotlight on the legendary R&B queen Sharon Jones, whose wonder is a force to behold both on and off stage. Always told she was never good enough (“you’re too black, too short, too old”); Sharon finally broke-through as a renowned soul singer being hailed as a modern-day female James Brown. Now as she prepares for her most important tour, Sharon comes face-to-face with the most difficult adversity of her life: a diagnosis with cancer. Follow this tour de force over the course of an eventful year as she struggles to hold her band The Dap Kings together while battling her diagnosis with an unstoppable determination to come out triumphantly as a true soul survivor.
Miss Sharon Jones!
Directed by Barbara Kopple
Starring Sharon Jones, the Dap-Kings
Country of Origin: USA
Running Time: 94 min
Tonight, Tuesday August 9 @ 5:00pm
and Wednesday, August 10 @ 7:30pm
at the Riviera Theatre – 2044 Alameda Padre Serra