Santa Barbara Gains Momentum, "Bobby G." and "Roadkill"
By Tom Cunha
When Renee Missel, Artistic Director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, came on board last year (her first time ever running a festival after years in the industry as a producer), she wanted to steer the festival towards edgier, creative independent films that would draw in a younger audience. Last year the festival paid tribute to the films of the 70s, declaring that decade a golden era in Hollywood filmmaking, a time when creativity flourished in the major studios as seen in the early films of such directors as Altman, Scorsese and Coppola. It was a time that many of today's independent filmmakers were inspired by.
At this year's SBIFF, it was apparent the progress Missel and the festival staff had made in only a year's time. Celebrating it's 14th year, SBIFF attendance totaled about 37,000 (its strongest turnout to date), there was a greater industry presence this year, including reps from most of the independent film distributors, more media coverage and most importantly, a stronger caliber of independent films. According to festival programmer Colleen McNichol, there were about 1,000 submissions, including documentaries and shorts, "The submissions were better this year," McNichol says, though only a handful of what was submitted was actually selected to screen. Much of what played was sought out through active tracking and consulting. "We're really proud of our U.S. indies this year. Where we are in the calendar year, it's hard to get them. But we found gems."
Like most festivals, the quality of the films at Santa Barbara was across the board, from outstanding (John Luke Montias' "Bobby G. Can't Swim") to so-so (Ron Senkowski's "Table for One") to just plain lousy (Amos Poe's "Frogs for Snakes"). The films in general were an improvement over last year, and, while some of the more highly regarded films were by no means flawless, they definitely introduced some original and talented filmmakers worth keeping an eye on. The strongest film by far was the aforementioned "Bobby G. Can't Swim," a tragic tale of a coke dealer's downward spiral on the brutal streets of Hell's Kitchen. The film, billed as an "advance work in progress" at the time of the premiere, was shot on 16mm over the course of 18 days. Writer, director, star Montias is an actor by trade and wrote "Bobby G." primarily to create a good role for himself. He's presently seeking funding to complete the film and looking to shoot another script later this year.
"I really want to get the thing on print," said Montias of the unfinished "Bobby G." "And I really want to screen it in New York City. I really think it should play there." His inspiration for the film came from years of working as a bartender in Hell's Kitchen. "All the characters are based on people I met or heard about." Montias may call himself an actor first, but with this project he may have stumbled upon his true calling as a director.
Among the more talked about films were Doug Atchison's "The Pornographer," which had divided responses after premiering, and Gregory J. Lanesey's "30, Still Single: Contemplating Suicide," a comedy about a Michigan native who moves to California and attempts to acclimate to the L.A. dating scene. The film premiered at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival last November and recently won the audience award at the Santa Monica Film Festival. Audiences responded well to "Suicide," which had 600 people turn up for a 300 capacity screening. Matthew Leutwyler's "Roadkill," which surprisingly picked up the audience award this year, is a very twisted suspense-comedy about a struggling film student (Erik Palladino) who shoots a documentary about a hit-woman (wonderfully played by B-movie staple Jennifer Rubin) on her last assignment. Still, you can't help but think what hit person would ever let a bumbling film student (or anyone, for that matter) document what they do on film?
Brien Burroughs' "Suckerfish," an amusing off beat ensemble comedy which takes place in the pet supply business, is worthy of mention simply because the entire film is improvised (quite well) by the actors. While the film takes time to get going, it picks up in the second half with some truly hilarious moments. Kieran Turner's "24 Nights," is an enjoyable gay romantic comedy that was shot over 20 days in late