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Exam and Mother Take Top Honors at Santa Barbara Film Fest

The 25th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) ran from February 4-14, and two of its winners are films that we’ve been keeping close tabs on here at Dread Central: Stuart Hazeldine’s Exam from the UK and Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother from South Korea.

Commented SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling, “This year’s films proved once again the caliber of filmmaking is higher than ever. The jury was truly challenged in making the final determination.

Who comprised that jury? Actor/director Joel David Moore; SBIFF originator Phyllis de Picciotto; USA Today film critic Claudia Puig; director Andy Abrahams Wilson; actors Haaz Sleiman, Clifton Collins, Jr., Anthony Zerbe, Dennis Franz, and Jay Thomas; and actor/director/writer Perry Lang.

Here are the details:

The Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema, given to a unique independent feature that has been made outside mainstream Hollywood, went to Exam in its US premiere. The film, directed by Stuart Hazeldine and starring Luke Mably and Nathalie Cox, was just recently picked up for distribution by IFC Films.

UK director Hazeldine, who was present to accept the award, commented “We are absolutely thrilled that the first film festival in America that we’ve come to has embraced our film. We’d also like to thank Panavision, with which we shot our film.

Eight talented candidates have reached the final stage of selection to join the ranks of a mysterious and powerful corporation. Entering a windowless room, an Invigilator (Colin Salmon) gives them eighty minutes to answer one simple question. He outlines three rules they must obey or be disqualified: don’t talk to him or the armed guard by the door, don’t spoil their papers, and don’t leave the room. He starts the clock and leaves. The candidates turn over their question papers, only to find they’re completely blank. After the initial confusion has subsided, one frustrated candidate writes ‘I believe you should hire me because…,’ and is promptly ejected for spoiling. The remaining candidates soon figure out they’re permitted to talk to each other, and they agree to cooperate in order to figure out the question; then they can compete to answer it.

At first they suspect the question may be hidden in their papers like a security marker in a credit card, and they figure out ways to change their environment to expose the hidden words. But light, liquids, and other plans all come to naught. Soon enough, the candidates begin to uncover each other’s backgrounds, prejudices, and hidden agendas. Tensions rise as the clock steadily descends towards zero, and each candidate must decide how far they are willing to go to secure the ultimate job …

As for Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother, it received the Best East Meets West Cinema Award. Magnolia Pictures will be giving the film a limited theatrical release on March 12th

Hye-ja is a single mom to 27-year-old Do-joon. Her son is her raison d’être. Though an adult in years, Do-joon is naïve and dependent on his mother and a constant source of anxiety, often behaving in ways that are foolish or simply dangerous. Walking home alone one night down a nearly empty city street, he encounters a young girl whom he follows for a while before she disappears into a dark alley. The next morning she is found dead in an abandoned building, and Do-joon is accused of her murder. Thanks to an inefficient lawyer and an apathetic police force, Do-joon’s case is quickly closed, but his mother refuses to let this be the end of the story. Trusting no one, Hye-ja’s maternal instincts kick into overdrive, and she sets out to find the girl’s killer and prove her son’s innocence.

For the full list of honorees, visit the official SBIFF website.

Uncle Creepy

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Steve Barton

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