Never mind the movie stars for a moment — the Tom Cruises, Will Smiths, Sacha Baron Cohens, et al. Of the various in-person encounters at SBIFF, some of the most intriguing banter comes from the panel discussions, particularly the director and screenwriter gatherings. And the panels have heated up in the last few years, given the festival’s pre-Oscar ramp-up timing. For diehard film nerds, the type who dive into festival mode and believe those behind the scenes deserve greater love than they get, here’s a chance to get a taste of the philosophical and ground-level data from those who know. (All panels are at the Lobero Theatre, unless otherwise noted.)
Take the Directors on Directing panel (Sat., Jan. 27, 11am): at press time, the panel included Alejandro González (Babel) Iñárritu, Todd (Little Children) Field — who was here a few years ago following the release of his masterpiece In the Bedroom — and the much-toasted team behind Little Miss Sunshine, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton. From the non-live-action realm, we get input from Pixar’s go-to man, John Lasseter (The Incredibles, Finding Nemo).
One of the festival’s perennial hot tickets is It Starts with the Script (Sat., Jan. 27, 2pm). This forum’s popularity is based not only on the octane of the guests, but also the rampant desire of most Southern Californians to come up with a script all one’s own (present company included). It’s another strong bunch of screenwriters convening this year, with William (The Departed) Monahan, Jason (Thank You for Smoking) Reitman, Michael (Little Miss Sunshine) Arndt, Field again for Little Children (he adapted the novel), Zach (Stranger than Fiction) Helm, and, for witchy kitsch’s sake, Aline Brosh (The Devil Wears Prada) McKenna. In an unusual double-play contender situation, Peter Morgan is also slated to show up, on the heels of the critically respected, real world-spun scripts for both The Queen and The Last King of Scotland.
But wait, there’s more: The list of guests for the Scoring the Film panel (Sat., Feb. 3, 2pm), so far, is largely an atmospheric bunch, with Gustavo Santaolalla, who provided impressive ambience for Babel, trusty moodman Mark Isham, who did the Bobby score, and Mychael Danna, who this year scored both the lovably profane, Little Miss Sunshine, and the sacred, The Nativity Story. More to come.
Producers get their 15 minutes in the sun, to mix a metaphor, in Movers & Shakers (Sun., Jan. 28, 11am). Jay (Borat!) Roach, Graham (The Departed) King, Laurence (Dreamgirls) Mark, Albert (Little Children) Berger, Steve (Babel) Golin, Ron (Little Miss Sunshine) Yerxa, and Judd Apatow from Taladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (let’s hear it for this underrated comedic gem!).
Gender politics in the industry are still tilted and uneven enough to warrant a special case, with Creative Forces: Women in the Biz (Sat., Feb. 3, 11am). At press time, the list of participants included Adriana Barraza, the actress from Babel, Virginia Katz and Sharen Davis, editor and costume designer, respectively for Dreamgirls (Davis also worked on Pursuit of Happyness). Also on board is director Cecilia Peck, of Shut Up & Sing fame.
Lastly, not leastly, we get the politically, environmentally correct panel discussion Location, Location, Location (Wed., Jan. 31, 7pm, Marjorie Luke Theatre). Expect no idle chatter: the discussion revolves around green thinking and sustainability issues in Hollywood’s work practices, featuring the admirably earth-minded Ed Begley Jr., along with such other strongly environmental bent industry types as Shelley Billik, Matthew Cooper, Gary Peterson, Amy Lemisch, Gretchen Lewotsky, and Debbie Levin.
All together, the festival’s panel discussions can offer glimpses into the underpinnings and the hopeful future of the art and the marketplace. Oh, and some of the visitors are not-so secretly vying for your consideration, to quote Christopher Guest.