This past weekend marked the end of the 27th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which ran for 10 days and showcased 197 films from 44 different countries. It was my first time attending, and as someone who is falling more and more in love with the film festival experience, I thought I would write a guide of sorts, hitting every aspect of my weekend at the Fest, to help you readers feel like you were there and be prepared for potentially attending in 2013. With only two and a half days in Santa Barbara, there wasn't a lot of time to squeeze things in, but I think I did pretty damn well for myself. Check out the play by play below.
First off - there are tons of hotels in the Downtown Santa Barbara area. The official one is called the Santa Barbara Hotel, natch, and it's right smack in the middle of the festival, across the street from one movie theater and mere blocks from the rest. As convenient as that might have been, I much preferred where I was staying, at the Oceana Hotel, right on the beach. We lucked out with our giant room that had a perfect view of the water, its own entrance, and a lovely garden/seating area right out front. We made friends in the hot tub, ate the best free continental breakfast I've ever had, and got great suggestions from the young and friendly front desk folks, especially Kiara. Sure, the 15-20 minute walk to the festival hub wasn't preferable, and the 25 cent trolley that got you there in five minutes was a little on the creepster side, the later in the day it got (but I mean seriously, at one point Rumpelstiltskin was trying his damnedest to curse me during the ride), but taking your car or a cab was always an option and worth it to wake up to a gorgeous sunrise over the ocean.
I managed to get three films in while I was at the fest, quite a lot considering the number of commitments I had in those two days. The first and best was Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, which was a wonderful introduction to the festival. Not only was the subject fascinating, but the film itself was extremely well made. Diana Vreeland was a true individual and took great pride in the way she told a story. The doc reflected this elegantly, taking great pains to stretch the boundaries of what a documentary can and should be. It was inventive in its execution the same way Vreeland was in her life and career and showed us who she was, instead of merely telling us. Aside from being impressed with the filmmaking, I was thrilled to have all of this new knowledge. How did I not know who Diana Vreeland was before now?! It seems absurd in retrospect. To think, this is the woman who invented the December Issue, this is the woman who revolutionized the fashion magazine, this is the woman who made the Met's Costume Institute one of the most revered and beloved galleries in the world with the swankiest opening night gala held annually in the entire US. She brought together two completely different views of feminism, blending the conservative view of how to behave around a husband with the very modern view of being a working woman where strength of character was never debatable. She was utterly her own person and is a true inspiration. Although I highly enjoyed the other films I saw at the festival (Detachment, somewhere between a brilliant surrealist look at the educational system and a mesmorizing filmmaking disaster, and Andrew Bird: Fever Year, a bland documentary about a fascinating man whose incredible music makes the 80 minute concert movie way more enjoyable than the filmmaking alone was able to accomplish), Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel was definitely my favorite.
Okay, so, we didn't do our BEST in this area. When visiting a new place, you never really know where to go - the best you can do this look things up online and take recommendations where you can get them. We ended up coming out about 50/50.
This huge bar with an expansive outdoor space had fantastic happy hour offerings like filet mingon bites, ahi tuna, grilled artichoke and flatbread pizzas for half the price, plus an incredibly potent special sangria. It hit the spot, but not the wallet.
Granted we came here at 11:30 after drinking for hours, so there is a chance the food only seemed amazing because we wanted it so bad but DAMN. Both the chicken and the seafood fetticine were out of this world. The latter was so good, we ordered a second one after finishing the first. The wine took a little while to get to us, some of it never arriving at all, but in retrospect, methinks our waitress could tell we were already on the tipsy side and was just doing her job. No hard feelings, pretty waitress.
Cold Spring Tavern
Granted, this isn't exactly in Santa Barbara, but it's well worth the twenty minute drive. First off, to get there you have to take the 154 aka the MOST BEAUTIFUL HIGHWAY EVER. It's through the mountains, with an incredible view the entire time, of either mountains, the forest, the valley, or the ocean. Then all of a sudden you find yourself on Stagecoach Road and at the Cold Spring Tavern, a Stagecoach stop from the 1800s, still standing. It's absolutely magical inside and a walk around the property reveals an old jail, bungalows, a 100 year old piano, a spring, and more. And the food. THE FOOD. We made it in time for breakfast and everything was phenomenal. Best biscuits and gravy (with venison sausage!) I have ever had. The only downside? There was just about nothing on the menu our vegan cohort could consume. 19th century stagecoach stops don't do vegan apparently.
The atmosphere is fantastic, no doubt. This cafe is literally on the beach and if you have time to wait, you can even get a table outside, in the sand. But because our schedule was so tight, we were forced to sit on the deck, which still had a beautiful view of the beach, but wasn't quite the same. It could have been forgiven if the food was better, but my entire group was a little underwhelmed. I even had to send my dish back. Happy hour as the sun sets would have perhaps been a superior time to go.
UGH. Ugh. We went here because it was recommended to us and it was awful across the board. Somehow the most expensive meal of the trip ended up being the worst. The chicken was dry, the flavors uneven - even the calamari was barely edible. How do you screw up calamari?! The wine was fine, but that didn't matter once they told me they couldn't accept my Visa gift card. Not. A. Fan.
Uncle Rocco's Pizza
When 2am rolled around Friday night, the boys in our group wanted a late night snack. We searched State St. up and down until we got to the college hang out area. There we ran into a group from NYC, now based in Santa Barbara, who told us NOT to go to the pizza place, that it was overpriced and not great, and instead to go to the late night thai place. I believed her, but the boys wanted pizza. 20 minutes later and 10 bucks poorer, the boys grumbled about being ripped off and still hungry. I told them we should have listened to Leanne. Lesson: Always listen to the cute hipster from NYC. Especially if it's about pizza.
One of the best parts of going to a film festival in Santa Barbara is that you're IN Santa Barbara. We lucked out weather wise, with 75 degrees and sunny defining our weekend at the beach, but I can't imagine it would have been less beautiful even if it had been a bit overcast. We took advantage of being there to of course go to the beach, but also spent some time at the famous Santa Barbara Farmer's Market Saturday morning, where I purchased a bok choy plant, a delicata squash, the best blueberries I've had in a long time, olives, hummus, freshly baked bread and more. It was filled with music and families and great prices and is an absolute MUST. We also made a point of going up to the Mission and driving around the beautiful surrounding area in the mountains. Southern California, and specifically Santa Barbara, is one of the few places in the world where you can be surfing and a half hour later, find yourself in the forest or mountains. Don't rob yourself of this experience and if time allows, be sure to check out the horseback riding, wine tastings, beach cruising, gliding, the art museum and more.
Stay tuned for part two, covering drinking, style, the awards shows (honoring the likes of Andy Serkis, Patton Oswalt and Jean Dujardin, to name a few) and Producers Panel and if you're in the Santa Barbara area, be sure to check out the winners of the fest playing all weekend long. Complete photo gallery can be found here.