Closing Night: Signing off from the 11th annual
Kurt Kuenne’s Shuffle and Mary Liz Thomson’s Who Bombed Judi Bari? were the notable winners on closing night of this year’s Santa Cruz Film Festival, taking the prize for Best Narrative Feature and the Morton Marcus Best Documentary Feature respectively, as voted by audiences. The former is a film I quite enjoyed and makes for a worthy winner, even if I might have cast my vote in another direction. Meanwhile, the latter is one I unfortunately missed; as much as I would have liked to see (and write about) every single film in the festival, I am but one man.
However, I did make it a point to catch a pair of films on Saturday afternoon and evening at the Del Mar Theatre, the first of which was Nina Koocher’s Under the Boardwalk: A Ukulele Love Story. The locally-produced documentary focuses on the local ukulele community, in particular the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz. The film captures its subjects having a great deal of fun, but that joy doesn’t entirely translate beyond the screen to the audience, largely because of the film’s unrefined craft. (On a related side note, there was an epidemic of truly dreadful title and credit design in this year’s locally-produced films—less is more, filmmakers.) That said, the film did take the prize for Best Locally Produced Work—but if I’m being brutally honest, what was the competition?
Following that, the closing night film was Walter Matteson’s Pretty Old, which I wrote about in the current issue of Good Times. Saturday evening was actually my second time watching the film, but as you can imagine, it played even better on the big screen than it did when I viewed it on my laptop prior to the festival. Upon that initial viewing, I suspected that the documentary—about a senior beauty pageant—would be a consummate crowd-pleaser, and the Del Mar audience reacted accordingly; keep an eye out for it. It was also a pleasure to meet Matteson in person after having interviewed him by phone when he was halfway around the world; he’s just a tremendously nice and exceptionally genuine person. I cannot think of a higher compliment for his film than to say it is entirely representative of the filmmaker himself.
Finally, a comment on the festival as a whole. While this year’s crop of films yielded mixed results, there were more than a few distinct highlights, which film festival junkies will know is far from faint praise. But because its program is a legitimately attractive one, the festival itself needs to get better. The 11th year of this event was marred by technical issue after technical issue, and while technical issues are a natural consequence during any given film festival, such issues can and should be remedied well ahead of time, rather than shortly before screenings, which resulted in one late start after another. It’s difficult to say whether or not these technical problems impacted the solid, but frankly underwhelming, festival attendance, but one has to believe that if they build it (to its full potential), they will come. And honestly, it’s a shame that more didn’t, because these films deserve better.
For the complete Santa Cruz Film Festival schedule, visit santacruzfilmfestival.org. PHOTO CREDIT: Magnus Wennman