As the month of January drew to a close, I was feeling giddy: the Film Festival was upon us. Never mind that the events of the designated 11 days would leave me sleep-deprived, blistered, and, likely, hung over (or as I call it in my world, overworked); the fun our town’s fantastic Film Festival packs is well worth a couple of sleepless nights and the cost of a pedicure and a packet (or two) of Morning Relief.
There was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air on Thursday, as the big letters went up on the Arlington’s marquee, the red carpet went down, and the searchlights shot out into the starry sky. Opening night featured the world premiere of Robert Towne’s latest flick, Ask the Dust, and Towne and Salma Hayek, the film’s knockout star, were there to do the honors. Roger Durling, godfather to all Santa Barbara film fanatics, genuine and enthusiastic as ever, introduced Towne and Hayek, who said a couple of words, and we were off! The film offered a cool glimpse of Depression-era Los Angeles, and though it was somewhat heavy, did nothing to dampen the spirits of the Filmies, who poured out of the theater, and hoofed it the couple of blocks to Paseo Nuevo for the opening night festivities. A massive arch with the words “Moulin Rouge” emblazoned atop it formed the entrance to the Parisian street fair-style soiree, and, inside, the booze was flowing, the band was grooving, the porta-potties were plush and plentiful, and the peeps were pumped. The 21st SBIFF was off to an incredible start.
Although maneuvering my way through the masses and into the Arlington the night of day two necessitated some minor physical contortions, I was hardly surprised: it was, after all, George Clooney. Not only is he painfully attractive and enormously talented, he is charming, hilarious, down-to-earth, and putting the force of his celebrity to good use by making relevant, entertaining, quality films. Leonard Maltin emceed the Q&A with Clooney, who hammed it up for nearly two hours, lamenting his stint as Batman, poking fun at his well-documented mullet, and bantering with the most vocal fans in the audience. Accepting the Modern Master Award, he said a couple of characteristically comical words, and then got serious, but not for long—while offering a heartfelt thank you, the top of the award flew off its base, giving him a perfect window to settle back into his trademark class-clown routine. Sigh.
The after party took place at the recently opened but still under construction Granada Garage, two floors below the street. The underground location, techno music, and blue lighting had me flashing back to my raving days, only now there was no curfew. Filmmakers, friends of the festival, and press mingled, many wondering when Mr. Clooney might appear. The VIP area loomed, dark figures visible through the gauzy curtains, and rumors flew. He’s here! With his pet pig! No, he’s not—he’s at the Wildcat! (It was Saturday when I learned, via a reliable SBIFF mole, that he actually went to a downtown B&B bar instead. Alas.)
The party provided me with a chance to flex my peeping muscles, when I convinced the team behind Night of the Dog to form a human pyramid. I was feeling proud of my powers of persuasion when I went to my coworkers to show off the shot, but then I noticed a strange phenomenon: a stream of admirers approached the two writers. “You guys have groupies?” I whined. It was around this time that the two go-go girls who’d been shaking their stuff all night, behind back-lit screens, emerged. They were stunning, and what’s more, possessed of the nerve to cruise around a hot-ticket event such as this in their underpants. I walked over, and asked if I could take their photo for The Independent. “For Peeps?” one asked. I nodded. “It’s the first thing I read! You’re Shannon Kelley Gould?” said the other. I got the shot, and skipped over to the boys to gloat. “I have groupies, too,” I bragged. “And mine are in their underpants!”
Another day, another incredible event. I arrived at Santa Barbara Junior High’s Marjorie Luke Theatre and settled into my seat. The lights went down, and Pete Hammond, the night’s emcee, introduced day three’s honoree, Naomi Watts, who was shy, sweet, and modest, making reference to the days when her acting resume consisted mainly of tampon commercials. But when she described her appearance as “unexceptional,” saying that while she rarely is recognized, she’s often told she looks like Naomi Watts, I had to laugh. She’s beautiful, and supremely talented, able to impart the subtlest of emotions, as well as the most dramatic. And the clips from such gems as Mulholland Dr., 21 Grams, We Don’t Live Here Anymore (a personal favorite), and King Kong proved it. After the Q&A, Roger Durling read his list of a “Baker’s Dozen of the Most Iconic Performances,” which began with Judy Garland as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and ended with Watts as Ann Darrow in King Kong; then emotionally pointed out the unbelievable fact that all of the names he’d just read were snubbed by Oscar. Peter Jackson sent a video that showcased what she had to do to make King Kong (think wrestling with the blue man group in front of nothing but blue screens); after, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who directed her in 21 Grams, presented her with the Montecito Award.
The evening’s after party was held at SBCC, where the Campus Center twinkled with candlelight. Watts and Iñárritu made appearances while the peeps enjoyed the spread, which, prepared by students of the culinary program, was divine, and the live jazz set an intimate, elegant mood. (Read: No human pyramids or underpants.) Wine flowed and time flew, and before I knew it, one more fantastic festival night was winding down. I headed home to rest up—another night had ended, sure, but the festival had just begun, and I had my work cut out for me.