Once again, the cinematic stars have aligned, opening up the fast-paced universe of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Starting tomorrow, Jan. 30 through Sunday, Feb. 8, lower State Street will play host to a bevy of American and international films, both long and short, old and new. A dream come true for film lovers and students alike, the festival combines fascinating panel discussions with industry professionals, filmmaking competitions and unique opportunities to view unreleased films from all over the world. In an effort to clear the filmgoers path of confusion, Artsweek would like to preview 10 must-see films screening the first half of the festival.

“Abjad” – Screening in the International Competition, director Abolfazl Jalili’s new film takes place outside Tehran, where 14-year-old Emkam gets torn between art and tradition, creativity and faith. Supposedly one of Iran’s master storytellers, Jalili specializes in breathtaking visuals. Iranian cinema remains one of the most productive in the world, so this film is a must for foreign film lovers. – BB
Sat 1/31, 4 p.m. and Mon 2/2, 7 p.m., Metro 4 Theater, 618 State St.

“The Agronomist” – Another documentary from Hollywood director Jonathan Demme, whose diverse career ranges from “The Silence of the Lambs” to the Talking Heads documentary “Stop Making Sense.” Celebrating the life of activist Jean Dominique, “The Agronomist” documents his fight against corruption, injustice and oppression in Haiti. Also nominated for the Santa Barbara Justice Award for Documentary Film, Demme will be on hand to present the film at Campbell Hall on Monday, Feb. 1. – GH
Sat 1/31, 1:15 p.m., Metro; Mon 2/2, 7:30 p.m., UCSB Campbell Hall.

“Blind Shaft” – Apparently, this tale of murder for money among the Chinese working class was banned by China’s government. So, if communists don’t want you to see it, maybe you should. – DM
Sat 1/31, 1 p.m. and Mon 2/2, 7:45 p.m., Metro.

“Cleopatra” – Think “Thelma and Louise” in Spanish. Argentinean director Eduardo Mignogna offers the story of a retired schoolteacher (Norma Alejandro) and a soap opera vixen (Natalia Oreiro) who bond over a testosterone-free weekend on the road. Mignogna also directed “La Fuga,” a 2001 film about an escape from a Buenos Aires prison. – DM
Tue 2/3, 7 p.m. and Thu 2/5, 1 p.m., Metro.

“Condor: Axis of Evil” – In his new documentary, Rodrigo Vazquez traces the history of the War on Terror dating back to the 1970s. Commenting on U.S. and CIA involvement in silencing left-wing dissent in foreign countries, this film will surely be a timely postcard for our current era obsessed with fear. This film is nominated for The Fund for Santa Barbara Social Justice Award for Documentary Film. – GH
Sun 2/1, 12 p.m. and Tue 2/3, 7 p.m., Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State St.; use back entrance.

“Cuba Libre” – Starring the always gruff Harvey Keitel and Gael Garcia Bernal of “Y tu mam