Featuring a whopping 196 films — in addition to a slew of panels and tributes — for its 25th anniversary, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s 2010 lineup is more than a little bewildering. Fortunately for you, Artsweek put in some quality overtime looking through the slate of films that was announced Tuesday, picking out 15 highlights to help guide you through the festival’s “11 amazing days, 10 starry nights.” Read quickly: The festival begins Thursday, Feb. 4. Don’t forget to check Artsweek for ongoing SBIFF film reviews, photos, interviews and red carpet coverage.

Next week, we’ll take a look at SBIFF’s documentary feature films, as well as films made by UCSB students.


This year, for the first time in SBIFF’s history, the festival’s opening night film is one that was shot locally. Actor-turned-director Derek Magyar’s “Flying Lessons” features “Lost” filmmaker Zdenìc Tyc actress Maggie Grace as an L.A. transplant who returns home for the first time in years to help her ailing father (Hal Holbrook).

Given our beautiful seaside local, it’s little wonder than SBIFF has long played host to some of the best surf films out there, many made by or featuring resident Santa Barbarans. This year is no different: Russ Spencer’s “Hana Surf Girls” is a tale about two talented young female surfers from the secluded Hawaiian town of Hana and their experiences when they move to Southern California. Current UCSB student Lipoa Kahaleuahi is one of the two main surfers featured in this film. The film also features music from local musicians, like The Coral Sea and UCSB alum Zach Gill.

Not much information is widely available about actor Perry Lang’s “Blue Bell,” but Gauchos will probably want to check out UCSB theater alum Amy Gumenick’s lead performance.


Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone’s (“W.,” “Natural Born Killers”) latest film is a documentary on Venuzuelan president Hugo Chávez, and Stone describes the film as a “film about North America’s neglected backyard.” Stone examines the American media’s image of Chavez and juxtaposes it with footage of his own meeting with the leader.


Veteran Czech filmmaker Zdenìk Tyc directs this fictionalized account of a poverty-stricken Romany widow struggling to take care of her seven children as the state attempts to take them away from her. In his own words, the director explains, “El paso is a slang expression for attack, and we’d like — in a good way — to attack our viewers.”


“Honeymoons,” directed by Goran Paskaljevic, follows two couples from different countries — Albania and Serbia, respectively — as they set out on their honeymoons, attempting to improve their situations in Western Europe. Both couples encounter harsh obstacles in their journey to create a new life for themselves, as their countries’ pasts catch up with them.


Director Shane Dax Taylor’s lyrical film about a divided Southern family, the Bloodworths, seems promising, despite the presence of tween queen Hillary Duff. Taylor assembled a team of gifted actors, including Val Kilmer and Frances Conroy, as well as country legend Kris Kristofferson, to bring William Gay’s novel to life for the big screen.


James Keach brings his Hollywood-set romantic comedy, starring small-screen star Rachel Bilson (“The O.C.”), comedy to the fest.


Argentinian director Mariano De Rosa’s film “Green Waters” played at last year’s Berlin Film Festival. The story follows a young family’s beach getaway-turned-nightmare, as they encounter a charming but mysterious stranger.


“Middle Men,” directed by George Gallo, was announced Tuesday as the festival’s closing-night film. Luke Wilson plays the film’s protagonist, an Internet mogul who gets drawn into a dark world involving the adult entertainment industry, Russian gangsters and international terrorists. Giovanni Ribisi, James Caan and Jacinda Barrett also star.

“A DISTANT PLACE” (“Un Lugar Lejano”)

Venuzuelan filmmaker Jose Ramon Novoa’s whimsical and dark “A Distant Place” tells the story of Julian, a famous photographer who has grown increasingly weary of life after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Julian’s outlook on life changes after a vision comes to him in his dreams of a picture that he must take of a place he does not recognize.


Actor (and Santa Barbaran) Jeff Bridges will be feted with a special “Jeff Bridges Day” (otherwise known as Valentine’s Day), which will feature screenings of the actor’s films, including last year’s celebrated “Crazy Heart.” Bridges’ Oscar-winning performances will be showcased in the films “The Last Picture Show,” “The Contender,” “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” and “Starman.”