Pop Notes and Jazz Jottings

By Steven Libowitz   |   September 27, 2018

The calendar is crammed as the new arts season arrives in earnest, although the biggest place in the land is more of a warm-weather venue. That would be the Santa Barbara Bowl, where it’s actually, unironically, unlikely to rain when Alanis Morissette takes the stage on Friday, September 27, followed two days later by the punk rockers Rise Against, then Banda MS, the 15-year veteran Mazatlán, Sinaloa group, on Sunday, September 30. Info at (805) 962-7411 or www.sbbowl.com.

Moving down a notch in size, UCSB Arts & Lectures opens its 60th anniversary season on Saturday, September 29, at the Granada Theatre with Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz giant Wynton Marsalis, who will be performing his visionary program “Spaces” with the Jazz at Lincoln Center. The works, inspired by the variety of movements in the animal kingdom, is a 10-part suite with the street and tap dancers interpreting the creatures. Tickets and details at (805) 893-3535/www.ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu or (805) 899-2222/ www.granadasb.org. Dropping another 60 percent in seating, the Lobero Theatre opens its new season of Lobero LIVE concerts with Marc Broussard, who will be delivering his signature bayou soul – a blend of classic R&B, rock, pop, and soul with a contemporary feel – on Thursday, September 27, with roots band The Dales opening. Graham Nash, I’m With Her (Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan), and Eliza Gilkyson with Eric Brace are on top in October. Visit www.lobero.org or call (805) 963-0761.

Cutting capacity by half winds us up at SOhO, where Sammy Miller & The Congregation play upbeat, feel-good jazz at an early dinner show on Friday, September 28, while local luminary Grateful Dead tribute band No Simple Highway hopes you shake it, sugaree, the following night before Daniel Rotem brings his jazz quintet to the club on Sunday, September 30. Info at (805) 962-7776 or www.sohosb.com.

Action Adventures at Art House

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) already has a crowded calendar, what with its annual 11-day eponymous extravaganza of celluloid, stars, and scenes-makers that takes place in mid-winter, one or more Next Wave festivals devoted to a single country or region in the summer, and monthly preview screenings with filmmakers as part of the Cinema Society, not to mention showing first-run art-house movies every day at its headquarters at the renovated Riviera Theatre. Given the exponential rise of Netflix and other streaming services, it would seem to be a strange or at least surprising moment to be expanding.

Yet today’s challenging times was enough of a clarion call to create a whole new series of screenings: the Call-To-Action Film Festival, which has its inaugural entry from Friday, September 28, through Thursday, October 4. The purpose of the new weeklong journey into the dark is to perhaps use the art of film to shed light on some difficult topics, and possibly bring communities together to spark dialogue on pressing issues.

Seven documentaries are making their local debuts, with the slate comprising Robin Hauser’s bias, discussing the nature of implicit bias; Robert Greene’s Bisbee ’17, addressing immigration issues; Stephen Maing’s Crime + Punishment, which delves into police quotas and other forms overreaching; Stephanie Soechtig’s The Devil We Know, which examines environmental issues; Sally Rubin andAshley York’s hillbilly, which takes a look at media representation; Dawn Valadez and Katie Galloway’s The Pushouts, which investigates prison and education; and Nancy Schwartzman’s Roll Red Roll, taking a look at the particularly timely topic of “rape culture.”

The films serve as empowering examples of people standing up against injustice and discrimination over a variety of issues. If it seems as if some hot-button topics aren’t being addressed – race relations, income inequity, health care, Native Americans, or the political divide among them – it’s only because of the limited screen time available.

“I had to come to terms with the fact that we couldn’t cover every social justice issue with only seven films,” said Michael Albright, the part-time SBIFF staffer who was brought in to help program the Call-To-Action festival. “We started by casting a wide net similar to how we approach the film festival each year, and from there we focused on the films that were not only the strongest in terms of quality, but also most aligned with the goals of this series, which is to bring the community together to discuss some of the issues that are raised in these films.”

Talking about the topics isn’t just an abstraction. Four of the films will be followed by panel discussions with the films’ directors and specialist on the films’ issues, moderated by Geoff Green, CEO of the SBCC Foundation who is the former director of The Fund for Santa Barbara, which sponsored the annual Social Justice Award at SBIFF for years. “The Nature of Implicit Bias” features Cyndi Silverman (Regional Director ADL) and Ted Scheinman (senior editor Pacific Standard Magazine), while “Rape Culture” will be a talk with director Schwartzman. “Media Representation” includes UCSB film professor Charles Wolfe, and “Prison and Education” features the film’s subject, Dr. Victor Rios, plus Noel Gomez, the Student Program advisor for the Santa Barbara City College EOPS Transitions Program. The panels should allow for ample time to take deep dives into the subjects, with attention on potential action steps for filmgoers.

“During the film festival, we usually only have 15 minutes for questions,” noted Albright, who booked in films in collaboration with SBIFF programming head Mickey Duzdevich. “The extended panel discussions, in partnership with other organizations in Santa Barbara who are aligned with some of the issues that are raised in these films, will go into much greater depth and allow us to include more perspectives.”

All of the screenings and panels take place at SBIFF’s Riviera Theatre, while the Passholder Reception takes place at Belmond El Encanto across the street. Film information, schedules, festival passes, and tickets are available at sbiff.org, by calling (805) 963-0023, and at the Riviera Theatre.

Ten-hut! Film Deadline Approaches

Students who might want to maybe make issue-oriented movies or action-packed features, take note. Smack in the middle of the CTAFF is the deadline for applying to be part of SBIFF’s 10-10-10 Program for 2018-19. Aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers who are in area high schools and colleges are eligible for the much-coveted program, which boasts an impressive panel of respected and successful film industry professionals actively mentoring the budding moviemakers. The mentors lead each of the 10 selected film crews from both age groups through all stages of planning and production, and provide feedback on a rough cut of the short films. Then, a judging panel high school and college screenplay winners while another awards the directors for the finished product. Finally, all of the films are shown at a free screening at the Arlington Theatre on the final day of the festival.

The program got its name because each of the 10 crews had only 10 days to write, produce, direct, shoot, and edit a 10-minute short, but now the mentors works with the young filmmakers over a span of several months. So, maybe the final 10 now refers to the 10-page writing sample budding screenwriters must submit as part of the application process. Directors need to submit a 5-minute short. Deadline is this Monday, October 1. Details and form at www.sbiff.org. 

First Night is Last Days

UCSB’s Pollock Theater gets back into action for the new academic year with a screening of Last Days of the City, Tamer El Said’s 2016 feature about a filmmaker from downtown Cairo who struggles to capture the soul of the city on edge while the world changes around him, from personal love and loss to the fall of the Mubarak regime. El Said will join moderator UCSB film prof Laila Shereen Sakr for a discussion following the 7 pm screening on Wednesday, October 3.

Also on tap for October at Pollock are two entries in the Frankenstein: Afterlives series: Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley, the 2017 doc that explores the life of the young author of book behind the eventually monster movie phenomenon, and James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, the sequel to his 1931 original Frankenstein. The screenings are free but a reservation is recommended to guarantee a seat. Call (805) 893-5903 or visit www.carseywolf.ucsb.edu/events. 

Breaking All the Ruhls

The Producing Unit founder/director Peter Frisch has a simple reason why How to Transcend a Happy Marriage – the new play from Tony nominee, Pulitzer finalist, and MacArthur Fellowship award winner Sarah Ruhl – immediately appealed to him.

“There are two middle-aged couples, and unlike just about every other contemporary work around, there’s no fighting,” he said. “There’s no arguing. It’s refreshing.”

What was also bracing, of course, was Transcend’s titular inquiry: an examination of the apparent incompatibility of traditional marriage with our more primal, sexual, animal roots. The theme is by explored via a sudden shift in the lives of the two happily married couples who are all also good friends when they encounter Pip, a woman who most assuredly takes life by the reins and lives it the way she wants to, without regard for convention or social mores. She shares her home and bed with two male lovers, only eats meat that she has killed herself, and treats taboos like a magnet.

“The play looks at the notion of what happens to our animal instincts when we get married and have children,” Frisch explained. “What do you have to cut off about who you are? There’s the whole notion of our instincts atrophying when they’re not used.”

It’s a clever conceit, but so too is the approach, Frisch said. “The form is offbeat and funny, the characters are both funny and witty, the lines are witty andironic and clever, and they have a lot to say.”

How to Transcend a Happy Marriage is by the author of Eurydice, In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) and Dead Man’s Cell Phone, the latter two of which were recently produced at SBCC, and was previously produced in New York 18 months ago, but is still new enough that rights, which Frisch snapped up instantly for the area, were only being awarding for stage readings.

The Producing Unit’s offering, which stars several of its frequent company members including Ivy Vahanian, Bill Egan, and Nina Sallinen, takes place at 8 pm on September 28-29 at Center Stage Theater in Paseo Nuevo. (Tickets at www.centerstagetheater.org or 805-963-0408). The black box venue is the perfect space to hold the rich tapestry of colors that arise via the work that has been called “subversive enchantment – part absurd domestic serio-comedy, part erotic magic realism.”

Whilequestioning monogamyis a big part of the play, Transcend is much more than a Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice-style exercise in wife-swapping, Frisch said, who said the play reminded him more of a contemporary Oscar Wilde. And perhaps that was the most personal part of the work’s appeal.

“It’s really about how to be more of yourself in a marriage,” he said. “Anyone who is or has been in marriage – or grown up in one – will start thinking a lot about what it means. I know I have. I got divorced just last year. So, it was very interesting to apply my own issues to the themes of the play.”


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