By Mahil Senathirajah
On opening night, I wrote that “movie theaters and film festivals have struggled to recapture their audience. People have not yet fully re-emerged into the darkness.”
From what I saw, it seemed like Santa Barbara embraced the darkness with better attendance, especially at the tributes and panels, and a palpable energy in the audience.
As Programming Director, Claudia Puig noted, Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) 2023 marked a “full throttled return to celebrating cinema from around the globe”.
Apart from the business stimulus and attendance numbers, Executive Director Roger Durling passionately conveyed the intangible stimulus to spirit that SBIFF can bring and the “value and essentiality of the moments we spend together”. He recounted seeing “people, who may not otherwise meet, starting a dialogue” and observed that “experiencing joy together makes us happier and more buoyant”.
Chandler Levack, writer and director of “I Like Movies” (Photo: Fritz Olenberger)
The closing night film, I Like Movies, reflected that spirit. The director called it a period piece because it’s set in a VHS-only video store in a suburb of Toronto at the dawn of the millennium. It follows the story of an earnest, narcissistic and thorough obnoxious 17-year-old student who wants to go to NYU Film School. He is supposed to be making the high school year-end video with his best friend but his ego gets in the way. There are well-handled subplots about his panic attacks arising from the suicide of his father and the video store manager’s encounter with film industry sexism, both of which give the film emotional heft.
Full disclosure: I grew up in Toronto and got many of the in-jokes so may have an abnormal affection for the film. However, I think its good natured vibe and well observed video store setting would have broad appeal, especially to cinephiles. It covers long gone video and video store conventions like the blooper reel/DVD extras, extraordinary late fees, ordering advanced copies of limited edition DVDs (Shrek), complex membership deals, etc. Remember seeking out pleasures in the nether regions of Video Schmideo’s labyrinth?
The film is well acted with the lead doing an especially good job of being unlikeable but not alienating. And, it is just plain funny and sharp-witted, especially in its first half.
Thematic spoiler alert: there’s a nice message about “listening, not just waiting to talk, to build connection” at the end.
All in all, a fitting conclusion to this year’s festival. I think that’s a wrap…until next year…