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.
The Award Shows
We attended Awards Shows both nights of the fest. The first was the Virtuosos Award, designed to honor actors who really came into their own in the cinema year in question. Whether or not they go on to become Oscar winners or nominees is beside the point, as the Virtuosos Award boldly recognizes performers that may even be too risky for Oscar. This year, while three of the honorees did get nominated for an Oscar, none were expected to, and all deserved to. Moderated by Dave Karger from Entertainment Weekly, the ceremony honored Demian Bichir, Rooney Mara, Melissa McCarthy, Patton Oswalt, Andy Serkis and Shailene Woodley. Everyone was in attendance, but McCarthy who had laryngitis and was put on vocal rest (but sent a nice apology note) and although the evening went a little long, it was still a joy to get to hear these actors talk about their experiences. Karger left a little to be desired. I love his columns and think he is a genius when it comes to Oscar prognostication, but the questions were a bit lacking, for example accidentally forcing Serkis to defend mo-cap to the other skeptical actors when all five were brought out to chat at once. Although Serkis handled it well, even hinting to Mara that she should be in the next Apes film. Highlights included Bichir talking about how much screening the movie for some senators meant to him, Serkis doing his entire interview shirtless while speaking the most intelligently, Mara's "Beaches and romantic comedies are not my thing," Oswalt describing his relationship with Charlize Theron (constantly jabbing each other - he says "Aeon Flux", she says "You shirtless") and Woodley talking about her stint as an American Apparel employee during hiatus for Secret Life of an American Teenager. Mara was extremely uncomfortable and brought the energy down in the room, despite how much she was trying to be engaging (shy is shy, I get it), and Oswalt cemented himself as one of my absolute favorite personalities. Perhaps the coolest moment of the night was when each actor recommended a film they loved from this year. Woodley,Beginners, Serkis, Tyrannasaur (though he, Oswalt and Karger all warned the audience about the opening scene), Oswalt, Martha Marcy May Marlene and specifically John Hawkes' performance and Bichir A Separation. Mara, in a particularly awkward move, evaded the question until finally saying said she loved all the movies everyone mentioned.
The Vanguard Awards, sponsored by Santa Barbara based company UGG Australia. held the next night, specifically recognizes cinematic artists of all kinds who have "forged their own path by taking artistic risks." Fittingly, this years honorees have just shot to stardom by starring in a film almost completely devoid of dialogue. To capture an audience the way these performers did without the aid of dialogue is beyond impressive, and whatever my problems may be with The Artist overall, I have no qualms at all about the brilliant performances delivered by leads Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo. And this evening was probably my favorite two hours of the entire festival. Dujardin and Bejo are beyond charming, and an absolute delight to watch and listen to. Mark my words, Bejo will be a star in the states, it's only a matter of time. Perhaps the most bizarre twist of all came when I found myself slowly but surely falling in love with Dujardin. Something about him is just attractive, you guys. During the ceremony, clips from The Artist were screened (at some point, with live accompaniment!), of course, but also clips from their earlier work, including their last Michel Hazanavicius movie OSS 117: Cairo Nest Of Spies, which I need to see IMMEDIATELY. I developed an entirely new respect for them as artists and people, and I can't wait to see what they do next.
Speaking of sponsor Ugg Australia, I had originally come to SBIFF to take an Ugg Challenge of sorts and see if the famously comfortable shoes could help me make it through 48 hours of being on my feet almost constantly, without sacrificing style. I was skeptical at first - we all have our misgivings and preconceptions about Ugg Boots ever since they were commandeered by mini skirt wearing Los Angeles teens in the early 2000s, but after checking out some of their new products, and digging the visual, I decided to give it to a go. Fittingly, since Ugg Australia is based in Santa Barbara, the city was perfectly suited to this challenge. I saw tons of SB residents rocking some of the new styles, which makes sense considering the overall laid back vibe. For more details on my experience with the boots (spoiler alert: I'm obsessed), head here, and if you're curious about more specifics about fashion at SBIFF, Castling goes into this more on All Things Fangirl.
With most of the festival taking place on one street, it became very easy to bar hop. Friday night found us beginning in our hotel room thanks to the local liquor store, where we drank delicious local wine out of red cups while relaxing in the hot tub. Next stop after the awards show was Wine Cask, a lovely wine bar and cafe connected to a fancy restaurant that had a great vino selection. The people who worked there were equally impressive, our waiter even advising me against ordering a wine that didn't turn out as well as usual that month. Later, after the Virtuosos Award Afterparty and dinner at Roy, we went to Joe's, known as the cheapest bar on State Street (no really - the bouncer even said this to me), where there were beers and shots until we took back to the street to seek out late night grub. But those places are just the tip of the State Street iceberg and I can't wait to continue searching for my favorites next year.
Every year, some of the most coveted events of the SBIFF are the panels. This year there was one on women in film, writers, directors and producers. I was lucky enough to get to attend the Producer's Panel and found it completely engrossing. The folks on stage were Letty Aronson (Midnight in Paris), Jim Burke (The Descendants), Bill Pohlad (The Tree of Life), Michael De Luca (Moneyball), Graham King (Hugo) and moderator Patrick Goldstein. The 90 minute conversation and audience Q&A was enlightening. Highlights of the discussion included the producers' opinions on what makes a producer deserving of a credit - work, or finance or a combination of both, or is it subjective, and how that should translate into an Oscar nomination (BTW, I had no idea Brad Pitt was such an influential and necessary producer on both Moneyball and Tree of Life), and the general ribbing of Graham King, as he was the only true big budget producer on stage. King readily admitted that yes, Hugo was a giant movie, but refused to mention the number of shooting days (hearing about the indie films standard 7 week shoot on 18-20 million dollar budget certainly didn't make him want to be any more upfront), but it also put THE WORLD to work. All of the sets were real, 60 3D technicians were needed at all times to work the camera and technology, 300 extras were employed for all of the train station shots - if each movie is its own business and has its own economy, Hugo was a huge success, as frustrating as it was for King. With the kids only available 4 hours a day, whether or not they could deliver in a low number of takes was a major factor, and the beauty and rare detail brought to the set caused major filmmakers and producers from all over the world to visit, including Peter Jackson, each one distracting Scorsese until King had to butt in and end playtime. Whereas Midnight in Paris sounded like clockwork, developed after years and years of Woody Allen and Aronson's partnership, always coming in on time and on budget, no rehearsal, sweet and simply, Hugo sounded like the beast that it was, impressively tamed by the talented King.
Complete photo gallery from my time in Santa Barbara can be found here