Gamblers, and ukuleles, and hippies! Oh my! The 11th annual Santa Cruz Film Festival unveils an eclectic round of cinema.
Navigating a film festival is not unlike finding your way through a foreign city for the first time—it’s difficult to know what’s worth checking out. Fortunately, the Santa Cruz Film Festival, now in its 11th year, manages to spread out its creative offerings enough so that attendees can plan ahead. Diversity is key in this year’s fest—from the opening night film, California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown (May 10) to more eclectic fare, such as EarthVision’s “shorts” program, Active Planet (May 16). Take note of the following 10 films that caught our eye; a fine mix of local and non-local films, narrative and documentary, domestic and international, short- and feature-length works. See you at the movies.
5 ‘Local’ Attention-grabbers
Exit 426: Watsonville (USA, 2012, 81 minutes) – There are any number of films in the festival’s lineup that feature far-off, alien locales, but Exit 426: Watsonville spotlights a place much closer to home that you may not necessarily be familiar with. A collaborative documentary made by a group of 20 UC Santa Cruz film students, Exit composes a tapestry of day-in-the-life vignettes in the titular town. Shot with an observational eye rather than an encroaching hand, it allows its subjects to express their own stories, and it could prove insightful to both residents and non-residents of Watsonville alike. Screens: 3:45 p.m. Sunday, May 13, The Nickelodeon
Only in Santa Cruz True to its title, this short film program not only promises the best that the local filmmaking community has to offer but it also represents what makes Santa Cruz unique. This eclectic, six-film collection chronicles everything from the Occupy Santa Cruz Movement to the Community TV program The Cornholes. It’s a hearty option for those who desire a bang for their proverbial buck—a mini-fest for the price of a single ticket. The films included in this program are Good Morning, Day!, Franky, Frankly, Big Somewhere, Echoes of the Great Depression, Santa Cruz Reskilling Expo, and The Cornholes. Screens: 12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12, The Nickelodeon
The Impact/Good Times/SCFF Screenwriting Contest Films – Last October, GT hosted its first screenwriting contest, Take One, in which we asked readers to pen their own scripts of no more than two pages and submit them for a chance to have their short film produced and directed by Impact Media Group, a local production company. The films based on the winning entries— Jesus Freak by Timothy Rinker, Smarty Pants by Emily Catalano, and Tip of My Tongue by Zach Dunn—will debut on opening night of this year’s festival ahead of the feature film, and should serve as a pleasantly light appetizer to complement the weightier subject matter that follows. Screens: 7 p.m. Thursday, May 10, Del Mar Theatre
Santa Cruzin’ (USA, 2011, 95 minutes) – Framing Santa Cruz as something of a laid-back utopia, Santa Cruzin’ explores whether or not living “free” is truly a viable lifestyle. The documentary follows five young friends who are attempting to sustain their existence without a day job. The subject matter is a deceivingly tricky tightrope to balance upon; it would be unwittingly easy for the film to either lionize or pass judgment on its subjects. As such, the film looks like it has the potential to set up stereotypes, only to later bring them down. Screens: 6 p.m. Friday, May 18, Del Mar Theatre
Under the Boardwalk: A Ukulele Love Story (USA, 2011, 75 minutes) The secret weapon behind many a popular tune on today’s music charts, the ukulele is at the height of its renaissance, which Under the Boardwalk: A Ukulele Love Story informs us is known as “the third wave of ukulele mania.” And riding that wave is a groundswell of local ukulele artists belonging to the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz, who are the focus of this documentary. Brimming with stories and music, the film chronicles the instrument’s rich history as well as the people behind the music. Screens: 4:45 p.m. Saturday, May 19, Del Mar Theatre
5 Others to Catch
California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown (USA, 2011, 88 minutes) While award-winning director Sascha Rice is admittedly the granddaughter of Pat Brown, her film promises to be an even-handed take on the former governor; at the very least it should be a genuinely personal perspective on a very public figure who, as “the godfather of modern California,” turned the state into a super-state. And even though Brown was governor back in the 1960s, the subject remains relevant today—his son Jerry is, of course, our current governor. Screens: 7 p.m. Thursday, May 10, Del Mar Theatre
Heist: Who Stole the American Dream? (USA, 2011, 85 minutes) This mad-as-hell documentary vents its considerable anger in a productive way by tapping into the zeitgeist. One can never be too educated about the economy’s failings, and with that in mind, this film details how U.S. corporations orchestrated the dismantling of middle-class prosperity, resulting in an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. It’s one thing to rage against the machine, but it’s another to do so with knowledge and intelligence. In addition, Heist suggests ways the audience can help turn back the tide. Screens: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, The Nickelodeon
Shuffle (USA, 2011, 82 minutes) A feature-length narrative excursion from filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, who directed the deeply devastating 2008 documentary Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, Shuffle stars T.J. Thyne of FOX’s Bones as a man who experiences his life out of chronological sequence—he goes to sleep without knowing where or when (past or future) he is going to wake up. The film, which boasts Oscar-winning talent in makeup designer Barney Burman (Star Trek, 2009), should be a neat treat for those who enjoy the mental gymnastics you might find in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Screens: 9 p.m. Saturday, May 12, The Nickelodeon; 12:30 p.m. Sunday, May 13, The Nickelodeon
Flutter (UK, 2011, 85 minutes) Taking its cues from classic British crime films, Flutter looks to be an entertaining genre diversion amongst more straightforward festival fare, but perhaps the film is also hunting larger thematic game. Featuring a catchy soundtrack and showy characters, it follows a group of gambling addicts who find themselves in over their heads, due in no small part to a mysterious femme fatale (is there any other kind?). The film may or may not offer subtext regarding the self-destructive nature of addiction, but either way, it promises to be a cracking ride. Screens: 9:15 p.m. Friday, May 11, The Nickelodeon; 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, The Nickelodeon
Small, Beautifully Moving Parts (USA, 2011, 73 minutes) Billed as “a coming-of-parenthood tale for the Internet age,” the title of Small, Beautifully Moving Parts may refer to either its protagonist’s obsessive curiosity about technology, or the baby growing inside her pregnant belly. Those two strands appear to be both narrative and thematic as the main character’s technophilia plays a part in her struggle to come to terms with the idea of motherhood. It’s a timely story that’s ripe for dramatic subtlety and comic nuance, and an excellent opportunity for its leading lady. Screens: 8:30 p.m. Sunday, May 13, The Nickelodeon; 1:30 p.m. Monday, May 14, The Nickelodeon
The Santa Cruz Film Festival runs May 10-19. For a complete schedule of film screenings and more details, visit santacruzfilmfestival.org.