While most of the nation is knee deep in ice, snow and freezing rain, the unsurpassed place to be is Santa Barbara, California in sunny, superb weather. This picturesque seaside resort offers endless pleasures highlighted by its awesome annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), now in its 29th year and just weeks before the Oscars, recently tributed Oscar notables for 2014: Oprah Winfrey, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, Cate Blanchett, Bruce Dern, Robert Redford and more.
Opening night kicked off the SBIFF with anticipation and excited fans. ECO friendly Santa Barbara welcomed renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle to introduce her documentary “Mission Blue” to raise awareness of ocean underwater disasters.
Joined by directors Fisher Stevens and Robert Nixon, Ms. Earle is dedicated to preserving oceans for posterity. Festival tributes followed with an evening for Best Director David O. Russell (“American Hustle”) and award-winning actress Cate Blanchett received Outstanding Performance Award for Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” She told everyone,“It was confronting and excruciating and terrifying and hilarious and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
In Santa Barbara, the lifestyle is casual with high style events paced with sophistication. Of all the events in the city, the SBIFF is the most special and quite accessible, you can hob nob with Oscar contenders, view up to 200 films, premieres and Oscar nominated pics and attend industry panels represented by writers, producers and directors of the top movies. Banners and searchlights draw crowds to The Arlington Theatre, the historic and beloved venue in Santa Barbara.
On any given day, it’s the place to meet people from every US state and numerous countries of the world; everyone on State Street is talking about films. The SBIFF has the knack of bringing people together to gab about what they saw and what they will see. When film buffs are not in the theatres between 8 am and 10 pm, there’s plenty of seaside fun and sights to see. There’s time to enjoy sailing, fishing, kayaking, whale watching or dining at the Santa Barbara Harbor. Nearby is the popular Funk Zone with wineries, designers, art galleries and more to explore. A must see is the Mission Santa Barbara and the historic Courthouse for photo opportunities.
Red Carpet evenings are always dazzling, especially when Santa Barbara’s esteemed resident and superstar, Oprah Winfrey of Montecito, was honored with the Montecito Award for her prolific body of work to a sold out audience. She was greeted with a standing ovation and she followed it with, “I appreciate you all coming out, but really, you could have just come over to my house.” She noted that it was an honor to be honored in her hometown and proclaimed, “I love you Santa Barbara.” We all loved her in Lee Daniels,“The Butler, “ and in “The Color Purple.” Another exciting tribute was in recognition of the successful 5 film unique collaboration of director Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, the Cinema Vanguard Award, which represents their fearless and uncompromising work.
So what’s a feast for a film festival? Not only were there celebrities in Santa Barbara, its restaurants, wineries and hotels were stars of the Santa Barbara Film Feast. Savoring here were the best plates, wines and special packages combining lodging, film tickets and restaurants. More than 36 prix-fixe menus offered memorable tastes of 3 courses before or after films. Some of my favorites were great food at Paradise Café, Olio e Limon Ristorante, Blue Agave, Santa Barbara Winery and Grassini Family Vineyards tasting room; plenty to pick and chose. Santa Barbarans like to eat and see films about food. They watched “Make Hummas Not War,” “Cesar’s Grill,” and “A Year in Champagne.”
Forever handsome Robert Redford, who grew up in California, was in Santa Barbara to receive the American Rivera Award for his major impact on American film. Redford admitted,” I spent a lot of time in Santa Barbara, surfing and spending time in the mountains. You all in Santa Barbara have a wonderful community and this festival… well, I’m just happy to be a part of it. I take this honor very seriously and with humility.” He was recognized for his amazing performance in “All is Lost” and so many others, as well as his lifelong mentoring of filmmakers at his Sundance Institute, named for his breakout role as the Sundance Kid. Welcoming Redford to the SBIFF was a great moment and he received the award from Festival Director Roger Durling.
In the final days of the festival, actor Bruce Dern was honored as a Modern Master for his 50 years in film and “his part of a lifetime” in “Nebraska.” Closing night of the SBIFF was a special evening hailing the popular romantic trilogy: “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and the closing film “Before Midnight.” The director/writer Richard Linklater, actor/writers Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke greeted fans and discussed the film after the screening.
The 700 volunteers were again applauded and festival winners were announced:
Panavision Spirit Award Independent Cinema: “Noble” (Ireland)directed by Stephen Bradley and Best International Film Award:”Eastern Boys” (France)directed by Robin Campillo.
See the complete list of winners at sbiff.org.
You can be sure that Santa Barbara is a fabulous destination year round, especially during the SBIFF, just refer to Travel and Leisure Magazine, who recognized the city at SBIFF 2014, as a Media Sponsor of the film festival. Find out everything about the Santa Barbara International Film Festival at http://www.sbiff.org or call 805-963-0023. Film Feast at http://www.SBFilmFeast.com and about Santa Barbara at http://www.santabarbaraca.com. See you next year Jan. 15-Feb.1. at SBIFF 2015.