The 29th Santa Barbara International Film Festival presented by UGG Australia - my first experience in SB to remember!

by Oliver Carnay

It was my first time to explore Santa Barbara and goodness, how I’ve enjoyed the 11-day film festival! I’ve never seen so many good-looking people walking down the most popular State Street while I’m dining and drinking at these nice restaurants in between watching films (I mainly stayed) at the Metro Theater where most of the U.S. Premieres were showing.

The red carpet rolled down at the Arlington Theater, a few blocks from the Metro Theater, to give tribute for mega-celebrities Oprah Winfrey, Cate Blanchett, Leonardo DiCaprio with Martin Scorsese, Bruce Dern, Dir. David O’Russell, who were all getting tribute this year... and I missed the panel discussion where my favorite actor (and frontman of 30 Seconds to Mars) Jared Leto was included.

Santa Barbara is about an hour and a half drive from Los Angeles and I didn’t mind coming back on a Wednesday (I was with some friends and colleague the first weekend) to continue wandering about the films I’ve missed at the Palm Springs International Film Festival where most of the best foreign film Oscar contender films are being shown.

Among films I’ve enjoyed (and I hope would be able to get a distributor in U.S.) or at least continue to get submitted in different film festivals this year are the following:

“The Major,” a griping drama about police corruption and the collateral damage it leaves behind. Screenwriter-director Yuri Bykov delivers a well-acted, suspenseful and engaging film. Sergey (Denis Shvedov). a major local police is speeding down to the hospital where his wife is having a labor when he runs over a boy, with a mom helplessly witnessing the crime. The whole police department tries to cover the crime and grim as it is, it was too late to solve and correct the cycle of complicity and corruption.

"The Major" trailer:

“Cold Eyes,” the remake of 2007’s “Eye in the Sky” centers on the world of modern surveillance and its utility for both fighting crime and committing it. A new recruit in Seoul’s crack police surveillance team breaks code to catch a master criminal. Thrilling and a very engaging film from start until its climax, the film has superb camera tricks you’ve never seen before. A must film to watch.

"Cold Eyes" trailer:

“Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo” won two major awards at this year’s SBIFF and it’s truly deserving. The documentary film chronicles the 2011 season of the international Gay Rodeo Association through the lens of a straight, city-raised filmmaker. Members of the IGRA travel across North America with a quest to qualify for the World Finals. The film introduces the unsung heroes of a tradition that currently stands on the issue of gay rights. Watch out for this at the upcoming OUTFEST 2014 and I’m sure it will also be accepted in different gay and lesbian film festivals.

“Eastern Boys” is another fascinating gay-themed movie I’m sure will be accepted in different major LGBT film festivals. A middle-age Frenchman named Daniel picks up a hustler at the Gare du Nord and agreed to show up at his apartment. But to his surprise, a motley gang of tough illegal Eastern immigrants (in the mix of Russians, Ukrainians, and other Eastern Europeans) showed up and ransacked his place. The young hustler returns to compensate the trouble and Daniel offers to be a regular client. Unafraid of explicit sexuality, the film is more of a love story with a social conscience. Director Robin Campillo bravely dares to exhibit and view the modern day France and how some immigrants survive in the city.

A teaser trailer from "Eastern Boys":

“Paulette” is a crowd-pleasing comedy from director Jerome Enrico where an older woman living alone in the Parisian suburbs no longer make ends meet and resorts to selling hash and other baked products. Her meager retirement pension is not enough and when she witnessed an opportunity to sell cannabis, she proved herself in a remarkable and heroic way.

"Paulette" trailer (in Spanish):

I’ve also enjoyed the World Premiere of “Barefoot, a rom-com starring Scott Speedman who plays a hard-luck gambler working at a mental hospital. Additionally, he happens to be the black sheep of a wealthy family, trying to prove to his parents that he has straightened out his life. One night he had a chance encounter with a socially withdrawn patient named Daisy (Evan Rachel Wood), an eccentric and unstable woman which led him to invite her as his date to his family’s lavish Southern wedding. The film is directed by Andrew Fleming and is being released this February.

"Barefoot" trailer:

“Intruders” is a narrative feature with a slow-burn suspense set in a cinematic snow cabins in the woods. A young screenwriter travels to a quiet rural bread and breakfast owned by his producer’s family. With the lodge closed to patrons for the winter, he suffers distractions from obnoxious unwelcome visitors -- including a talkative ex-con, an unscrupulous police officer, and a pair of possibly murderous woodsmen. South Korean Noh Young-seok directs this disarming comedy of errors that won widespread critical praise, comparing his work to Jim Jarmusch.

"Intruders" Korean trailer:

“Cupcakes” -- From award-winning filmmaker Eytan Fox (Yossi & Yagger, Walk on Water) comes a musical-comedy about love, life, and friendship. Award-winning filmmaker Eytan Fox (YOSSI & YAGGER, WALK ON WATER) returns with a stylized, gossamer-light musical comedy about life, love and friendship. When heartbroken Tel Aviv baker Anat gets together with her friends to watch a Eurovision-style song contest, the catchy tune they write to cheer her up unexpectedly ends up as Israel’s entry for the contest. With an entertaining storyline and a stylish direction (a la Almadovar), you’ll surely love Fox’s latest feature fiction.

"Cupcakes" trailer:

Another favorite of mine is “uwantme2killhim?” Based on true events in the UK in 2003, the film is a story of the dangers of the internet, the new crime scene of the 21st century... When 16-year-old Mark, a handsome and popular boy, meets local girl Rachel on the internet, he quickly finds himself in an intense online relationship. Besotted, he will do anything for her – even befriend and defend her bullied, loner brother, John. But when Rachel, who is trapped in an abusive relationship, is murdered, Mark and John are determined to avenge her death. Their actions draw the attention of a female MI5 agent as they unwittingly stumble into an ongoing operation. Soon, Mark is recruited to commit a devastating crime, one that made British legal history.

"uwant2killhim" trailer:

Worth mentioning here is the film “If I Close My Eyes I’m Not Here” (Se chiudo gli occhi non sono più qui). Two half-Filipino-Italians -- Hazel Morillo and Mark Manaloto lead the cast of this dramatic and tragic story. Struggling after his father’s death, Kiko (Manaloto) has learned to live with his mother and step-father, Ennio. At 16, Kiko is forced to work at his stepfather’s building yards and is failing in all his studies. Tormented by the abuse of his classmates, he was pressured not to have an opinion or voice. One day an older man appears and introduced himself as his father’s close friend and becomes his mentor.

I met Hazel Morillo who plays Kiko’s mom after the screening and she relayed how she got the role. “There was a nationwide search ... they’ve reached out to the Filipino-Italian communities but couldn’t find who would play the mom. When I heard this, I traveled about three hours from mainland to do the audition. At first they weren’t convinced because I look younger in person and Mark (Manaloto) looks like my brother. But I totally erased my make up and changed my looks to appear older and it worked!”

(Photo with Hazel Morillo)

"If I Close My Eyes I'm Not Here" (Se chiudo gli occhi non sono più qui) trailer:

(Photo below: cast of "Violet" Junio Valverde and Erik Palladino with director Luiso Berdejo):

"The Great Beauty" director Paolo Sorrentino:

And lastly, among my top favorites is “The Old, the Young & the Sea” .. from the teamwork of Austrian filmmakers Mario Hainzl and Andreas Jaritz. This feature documentary captured one of the best cinematic and surfing landscape you’ll ever seen onscreen, visually entertaining and spiritually uplifting. Both goes on a 16-week journey along the remote European surf coast in two old VW buses and takes an adventure of a lifetime where they’ve discovered tons of footage of stunning portrait of incredible individuals who surf, travel and protect the environment. To browse more about the film, go on their web site at

(Photo with filmmakers Mario Hainzl and Andreas Jaritz)