Santa Barbara Film Fest Honors "Sweet Sixteen," "Samsara"
by Brian Brooks
The 18th Santa Barbara International Film Festival closed Sunday with a gala screening of Thaddeus O'Sullivan's romantic drama, "The Heart of Me." Santa Barbara presented its awards, with Ken Loach's film "Sweet Sixteen" winning the grand jury prize in the international competition. The U.K. film is an emotional story about a boy who battles to change the dead-end that he and his mother face. Other international competition winners include Unni Straume's "Music for Weddings and Funerals," about a woman who loses her child and then has her life transformed by a tenant who moves into her basement. Also honored was "Samsara," which also received the audience award for best feature. The film by Pan Nalin is a spiritual love story that takes place in the Himalayas.
The festival also named two films recipients of its American Perspectives winners. Greg Pritikin's suburban-set dark comedy, "Dummy" was honored along with Shane Taylor's "The Grey." The film is about a Southern boy who goes against the wishes of his mother and becomes involved in the world of cock fighting through his overbearing father. Documentary competition winners included "Sadaa E Zan" by Renee Bergan. The film examines the situation faced by Afghan women after the fall of the Taliban. Also going home with an award is "Spellbound" by Jeff Blitz. The Oscar-nominated doc follows eight students on their journey competing in the 1999 National Spelling Bee.
"As the jury chair the past four years, without a doubt, this is the strongest line-up of films we have seen at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival," commented jury chair Ilene Kahn Power in a festival release. "There was a unanimous feeling on part of both juries that this was the strongest combination of world-class talent and emerging American filmmakers." The festival took place in the California coastal resort community from February 28-March 9.