No wonder everyone flocks to Santa Barbara each Winter. It’s a yearly phenomenon
to be there for the winning movie star tributes, non-stop screenings, food dining feasts and round about parties. Speaking of film festivals the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) has become a world-class whirlwind happening, not to mention that Santa Barbara is always a California resort paradise. When it’s festival time those anticipated Oscar winners, esteemed and new filmmakers, and avid film lovers converge on State Street for 11 days of flicks, fun in the sun, and night time movie star dazzle. While others are huddling together and freezing across the nation, you can be sure that everyone in sunny Santa Barbara is thrilled to be enjoying the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
The 26th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival started off with a megaphone blast, which prefaced the festival screenings with a rousing trailer of film crowds depicted in marching animated Legos. The Lego head honcho attempted to tame the crowds by sputtering, “I’ve got a megaphone!” This theme extended to the latest 2011 poster, which popped up all about the city and theatres. There are always surprises at this festival. What a creative endeavor of marching Lego bricks, the fabrication of 16-year-old English animator and drama student Harry Bossert! He collaborated with Santa Barbara music man, Parry Gripp, lead vocalist and guitarist for the punk pop band Nerf Herder, as well as co-owner of the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate. Bossert jetted to Santa Barbara, all expenses paid, and was given a Platinum Pass to all events.
The Historic Arlington Theatre, as the core of the festival, was a packed house for Opening Night and every tribute night. With a warm welcome from SBIFF Board President Jeff Barbakow introduced Festival Director Roger Durling and Lynda.Com, an education software firm and the major presenting sponsor. How does he do it? Roger Durling has the knack of inviting yearly Oscar nominated actors and filmmakers long before they are in the running for awards. They arrive to the SBIFF weeks before garnering Academy Awards for amazing tribute evenings and are embraced by the Santa Barbara community. Again, he was right on, 2011 marks my SBIFF #6 and it gets better and better, as recognition for this major film festival resounds internationally. Such a diversity of independent and international films is a film lover’s delight.
With an ovation, French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner introduced his Opening Night film “Sarah’s Key,’’ starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Cinema Vanguard Award SBIFF 2009. The film, which took years to be made, finally took off when the book became a runaway best seller. This compelling film centers on an American journalist (Thomas), discovering a story of 10 year-old Sarah, who locked her little brother in a cupboard to save him as a French group rounded up the Jews in 1942. She is challenged to find the truth of what happened as she writes about that horrific historical time. This touching story evolves from present to past in flashbacks. After the riveting screening, there was the Opening Night gala party bash, as always, at the Paseo Nuevo courtyards, filled with food tasting from local restaurants and cocktails from sponsor Chopin Vodka, combining music and dancing.
After the kick-off, it was pick your films from 170 choices and on to movies at the Metro Theatres around town. I love those French films and En Focus Quebec provided some great pictures. Cameras flashing, Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”) arrived with her husband legendary Warren Beatty, to receive the American Rivera Award presented by Kevin Costner with his fond praises. Big fan Roger Durling reflected on her career (SBIFF Montecito Award 2005) with a film retrospective and candid interview. Moving on (he does it all) director/writer/producer Christopher Nolan (“Inception”),who was hailed for his great cinema mind and career, received the Modern Master Award from his award winning film’s star Leonardo Di Caprio, caught up in Nolan’s film tale of complex layered dreams.
James Franco, a festival favorite, took the Outstanding Performance of the Year Award.
As an avid film buff, I had seen all the Academy Award winning films; yet here in Santa Barbara, I can see the filmmakers and actors on panels and tributes. How great is that! I was in awe of Danny Boyle’s film “127 Hours,” based on a true story of a mountain climber trapped under a boulder in Utah and looked forward to James Franco’s (“127 Hours”) tribute for Outstanding Performance of the Year. Franco, co-host of the 2011Academy Awards with Anne Hathaway, arrived late but quickly became a crowd pleaser as he revealed tidbits about his life. Studying for a PhD in English at Yale, he keeps busy plus making films like the final Spider-Man and appearances on TV’s General Hospital. Poking fun at him was his witty pal, Seth Rogan, who presented the award.
Oscar favorite “The King’s Speech” was right on target with the Montecito Award tribute
to Geoffrey Rush, who jetted out from Sydney, Australia to Santa Barbara and returned the same day. He was joined by cast members Colin Firth (SBIFF Montecito Award 2010) and Helena Bonham Carter for an Best Ensemble of the Year Award. Director Tom Hooper was beaming as award-winner Colin Firth bestowed Rush’s Montecito Award to his speech teacher.
The red carpet sizzled at the Arlington as Nicole Kidman greeted fans before receiving the prestigious Cinema Vanguard Award for her 20-year career. There were rave reviews for her latest film “Rabbit Hole,” which I screened that morning, revealing how a mother copes with the loss of her child and the offender. Kidman is an actor who takes creative risks with her many film choices of daring, flawed, and unique characters. She quickly noted, after viewing her film clips, “This is me and those are the characters I play.”
Santa Barbara is a natural beauty, nestled between Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, and a
charming city with Spanish-colonial design. Its beautiful harbor makes it a premiere resort destination. Between films I head for the harbor. It’s my favorite lunch hang out; ahh..to dine on fish at Brophy Bros Restaurant beside the yacht filled harbor haven! I can’t resist a stop at the beautiful Santa Barbara Mission for photos and then on to the art walk to enjoy miles and miles along the beach on Saturdays and Sundays. Opposite the beach art walk there are many Central Coast wine tasting rooms, all within walking distance and the wine is fine here. Shopping will always be my passion and State Street has it all from chic boutiques, vintage and antique ware, Nordstrom’s and the stylish Paseo Nuevo shops. During a film break, I popped into Juicy Couture and bought a matching black-jeweled hat and scarf. A visit to the beautiful Santa Barbara Art Museum on State Street was a cinch, since it was one of the film venues. It’s a joy to wander through this Spanish style walking city and screen films; there’s plenty to do.
Dining is a favorite Santa Barbara pastime. SB Film Feast foodies were enticed with 30 regional eateries and their specialties for prix fixe meals. What a great chance to try new places for a 2, 3 or 4 course sampling and then catch a movie. This was my chance to savor dining with a friend at OLIO E LIMONE, (17 W. Victoria); it’s the best of the best. Here the courses are the stars and should receive awards. Celebrities filled this intimate setting. Glancing through the room I spotted actors Rob Lowe, Billy Baldwin and Christopher Lloyd savoring dining here. Immediately we felt welcomed, and from then on we experienced superb authentic Italian cuisine, great service and casually elegant ambiance. Chef Albert Morello adds his Sicilian touch to his dishes and his charming wife Elaine is a warm and friendly hostess, who will encourage you to try Olio Pizzeria next door for lunch or dinner too. It’s certainly an upscale favorite and just looking at the menu turns on your taste buds. Try #1eggplant soufflé with goat cheese and warm tomato sauce,#2 pasta sampling with pumpkin ravioli, spinach tortellini and garganelli with lamb ragu and #3 delectable veal scaloppini sliced with artichoke hearts and lemon sauce. For dessert, we loved the #4 chocolate banana pudding. Dining at Olio E Limone is an inspiration to return soon and discover more of the menu.
I wasn’t keeping track, but I venture to say that I saw 23 films and attended all the tributes and the Movers and Shakers panel. One of my most liked evenings is the Virtuosos Award, honoring exceptional performances in recent films, I agreed with the choices John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone”), Leslie Manville (“Another Year”), Jackie Weaver (“Animal Kindom”), Hailey Steinfeld (“True Grit”) and Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”). Their performances were outstanding and their futures look bright.
Santa Barbara and Montecito have a strong connection with the SBIFF and celebrities,
many of them do live here. Last year Santa Barbara local and Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges had his special day, and I notice in a store window on State Street a plaque recognizing his 2010 win with a picture of Bridges and his wife Susan.
The film, which impacted me, was “Face to Face” by director Michael Rymer, based on transcripts of alternative justice resolutions, winner of the Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema. I enjoyed the East West Cinema Award from Japan “Patisserie” combining pastry and life in Tokyo. Bizet’s “Carmen” in 3D, London’s Royal Opera House Company, was the stunning closing film in Real D, a view of the performers up front and personal: a dazzling way to view opera and theatre. SBIFF audiences raved about the music scene documentary “Troubadours” (Audience Choice Award) as it followed James Taylor and Carol King in the 60’s & 70’s. In days gone by I actually saw them both perform at the Troubador Club in West Hollywood. More awards went to local and student filmmakers, short films, documentaries and more.
All winners are listed at http://www.SBIFF.org. As always the SBIFF pleases all, who attend from all over the world. This year was exceptional. SBIFF is a perfect reason to visit Santa Barbara.