The American Rivera Film Festival by Barbara Singer

Santa Barbara, California is a paradise, where you can embrace endless pleasures of California landscape from the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains to wine vineyards and the Pacific coastline. It’s a classical city that reflects its dramatic Spanish history. Fondly called “The American Rivera,” here’s a Mediterranean climate promising year-round sunshine in a setting with a special ambiance, located just one hour and half from Los Angeles and easily reached by car, Amtrak train or by private plane.

Between the mountains and the sea of Santa Barbara are so many ways to enjoy life. In the course of a day, you can picnic on the beach, art hop in numerous galleries, visit the wine country, explore local trails on foot or horseback and enjoy one of the greatest film festivals in the nation with top-of-the-moment celebrities honored for their outstanding and recognizable work.
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Santa Barbara Mission by Barbara Singer

The city has a perfect mix of lifestyles, from outdoors to urban. It’s a breeze to fall in love with Santa Barbara and its wonderful architecture with influences of Spanish, Mexican and California craftsman style reflected in Spanish Colonial revival and Moorish white washed buildings. The true symbol of this luxurious city is their beloved Santa Barbara Mission, the Queen of California Missions and so photogenic. Red tile roofs and red brick streets are characteristic of the downtown streets and countless Spanish arches are reminiscent of days gone by. When red tiles meet the red carpet Hollywood stars and international films dazzle Santa Barbara.
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Oscar season kicked off in Santa Barbara with the onset of the Santa Barbara International Film festival SBIFF (sbfilmfestival.org)
as the 24th annual banner plummeted from historic Santa Barbara Hotel downtown. City residents and visitors gather along the signature red tile streets leading to the Festival theaters. After 24 years, this film festival is hot listed as one of the best in the nation; it’s not surprising that the A-List celebrities are ecstatic to be honored here.
Opening on the tail end of Sundance and the brink of the Academy Awards, hot off the Golden Globes, this elite film festival could well be the Cannes of the West on the American Rivera with all its festivities and star power. This city brushes with Hollywood with its hometown filmmakers, who participate at the SBIFF with their dialogues and films. The SBIFF is the #1 festival for surfer films and showcase for international film premieres, Academy Award nominated films, shorts and Foreign films.
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Downtown Santa Barbara by Barbara Singer

Downtown Santa Barbara, where the past meets the present, is the picture perfect festival setting with soaring palm trees, white-washed buildings and red tile roofs all in Spanish-style. Festival head honcho Roger Durling has the knack of inviting the winners to the SBIFF, who are just about to garner the coveted Oscars. There is a dazzling affair every night without the paparazzi frenzy of Hollywood.
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Academy Award winner Kate Winslett tribute photo by Rebecca Sapp

Ready, set, roll…headliner Kate Winslet received her second special Montecito Award from friend Bill Nighy and went on to win the Oscar for “Best Actress.” Penelope Cruz, deemed the ‘Spanish Enchantress’ by Durling, was presented the Outstanding Performance Award by her friend Josh Brolin and then brought home the Oscar for her role in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” Joining the illustrious tributes were Golden Globe winner Mickey Rourke, honored for his film comeback with the American Rivera Award, presented by icon Francis Ford Coppola. Kristin Scott Thomas received the Cinema Vanguard Award from her English friend Ralph Fiennes.

2009 Virtuosos Awardees were other Oscar nominees Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, Michael Shannon, Melissa Leo, Rosemary DeWitt and Sally Hawkins. “Benjamin Button’s” admired director, David Fincher, shared an evening of clips and chatter about his film career with another eager crowd. This festival brings out so much spirit, excitement and passion that it’s easy to become addicted.

Santa Barbara truly loves film icon Clint Eastwood, a man of few words and strong actions and a living legend in front of the camera and behind it with his directing, producing and film music scores. I was thrilled to sit behind him last year when he presented Performer of the Year award to Angelina Jolie, as Brad Pitt beamed. Eastwood, who lives nearby at Carmel by the Sea, packed the Arlington Theatre for a well-deserved tribute. He was presented with Santa Barbara’s Lucky Brand Modern Master Award, bestowed with pride, by Academy Award winner Sean Penn; the SBIFF’s highest nod to the very best.
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Clint Eastwood receives Modern Masters award from Sean Penn photo by Rebecca Sapp

The opening night bash at the outdoor Paseo Nuevo open air shopping mall brought out city residents, officials, filmgoers and those Platinum Pass holders, who have carte blanche at the SBIFF, while local restaurants served specialty tastings to the spirited film partygoers. One of the many sponsors Chopin Vodka pleased the crowds with its Red Carpet Cocktail, combining vodka and cranberry juice. With screenings of over 200 films, my preferences were biased to foreign films. My favorites from this year’s line-up were: Mexico’s “Tear This Heart Out,” and Sweden’s “Everlasting Moments,” and the documentary narrated by Martin Sheen “They Killed Sister Dorothy.”

Between films, events, panel discussions and tributes, festival visitors are treated to Downtown Discount Guides, where they can dine and shop at a discount, certainly an incentive to be in Santa Barbara during the Festival. Actually the early glamour of Hollywood began in Santa Barbara with hundreds of silent films produced at the city’s Flying A Studio in the early 1900’s.

Discovering Santa Barbara by day defines enjoying a city dotted with tall palm trees, lush parks, gardens and yachts. Bright days encourage indulgence in sea sports like: surfing, sport fishing, whale watching, scuba diving, boating and dining in fish specialty restaurants like my favorite seafood spot Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant at the harbor.

Lodging, as well as restaurants, in Santa Barbara run the gamut from chic to deluxe to budget. As a frequent visitor to this great city, I have stayed at many hotels and B & B’s. On the high end, the luxurious The Four Seasons Santa Barbara Biltmore Resort & Spa (www.fourseasons.com/santabarbara ) is my eternal favorite, set by the sea in the affluent suburb of Montecito, one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. It is home to many celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Kevin Costner, Rob Lowe, John Cleese and billionaire Beanie Baby entrepreneur Ty Warner, owner of the Santa Barbara Biltmore and nearby luxurious hideaway San Ysidro Ranch as well as many golf courses, Ty Warner Sea Center and much more.

The historic Santa Barbara Biltmore is a Spanish Colonial treasure with traditional red roof tiles, ivory adobe and graceful archways that look out to Butterfly Beach, reflecting the glory of old California. In downtown Santa Barbara, the newly re-invented deluxe Canary Hotel (www.canarysantabarbara.com) features the town’s signature Spanish influences of the Canary Islands, but with a dash of Moroccan spice. Guest rooms feature four-poster beds, an organic mini-bar, and, strangely enough, bird-watching guides and binoculars. In Santa Barbara, a stay at most hotels for two nights includes the third night as complimentary.

My most enjoyable luxury B & B experience was charming at The Simpson Inn (simpsonhouseinn.com), a luxurious 1874 Victorian mansion with deluxe cottagesand a living room Jacuzzis. It’s located in a historic residential neighborhood. Downtown, I have often stayed at the historic Hotel Santa Barbara (hotelsantabarbara.com) headquarters for the SBIFF: it’s just minutes to shopping, dining, pubs and theaters.

Visiting the Central Coast Wine Country is quite appealing; in Santa Barbara downtown wineries welcome tasters. The most popular wine excursion follows Highway 101 north to discover the “Sideways Tour” based on the ever-popular film that brought tourists seeking the wineries visited in the film. In addition, this city has gone green in every way; it was a forerunner in environmental preservation. Santa Barbara Car-Free is a city program encouraging Amtrak train travel with considerable hotel, restaurant and shopping discounts that go with the ticket. The train arrives in the city downtown and everything is within walking distance. You can find out everything about the paradise that is Santa Barbara at http://www.santabarbaraca.com. It’s the perfect place for a getaway and a cherished holiday at any time of the year.