Friday night a throng of people descended upon the Lobero Theatre to see the Cinema Vanguard honorees Christoph Waltz, Vera Farmiga, and Peter Sarsgaard. (Vanguard Stanley Tucci was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts). Also sitting in was Virtuoso Gabourey Sidibe, who missed her event last Sunday. The packed theater was buzzing with anticipation. Just after 8 p.m., SBIFF President Jeff Barbakow got the event underway, introducing the evening’s moderator, SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling.
Vanguard is the military term to describe the front division of an advancing army, Durling explained. The word is also used to characterize the people who “are innovative and ahead of the majority…the people who plot the path. And this is what these actors have done in 2009, and their entire careers,” Durling said. We are also here tonight to honor Gabourey Sidibe for her “astonishing debut in Precious, a moving and primal performance” that has earned her an Oscar nomination.
A particularly heart rendering scene of Precious was screened before Sidibe was called on stage. “That’s the only scene that still makes me cry. I thought I’d be dead inside by now,” she said laughing. Effervescent and funny, Sidibe said of being a role model that “Precious is the role model.” One of the most affecting aspects of Sidibe’s performance was her convincing countenance of an abused teenager. “Precious has received no goodness and it shows on her face as being hard. If I’d given up on my own life, I thought that’s what I’d look like,” Sidibe said. As for her new-found fame, she received howls of laughter from the audience when she teased, “I take a jet everywhere. Greek gods carry me around on their shoulders. And that is life.”
Next up was Vanguard Peter Sarsgaard, who has made his mark in film playing complicated, multifaceted, often morally-challenged characters. “I have a big heart for the castaways,” he said of how he chooses his roles. Evidence of that was clear after viewing clips from his films Boys Don’t Cry, Shattered Glass, Kinsey, Jarhead, and An Education. “When I see someone who is exalted—even in life—it’s hard for me to have any connection [with them],” explained the charming, witty actor.
When scenes of Christoph Waltz’s performance as Col. Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds screened it was easy to see why Waltz is up for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Landa is chilling, charismatic, cunning, and humorous—a tricky mixture of characteristics to portray. Although new to Hollywood, Waltz has had an illustrious career in film and stage in his native Austria and Germany. His theater background was immeasurable training for this role, he said. “I don’t think I could have done [that part] if I hadn’t had a theater background…I consider the part of Col. Lana to be one of the best parts in literature.” It’s comparable to Richard III, Waltz said, “it has so much depth and a wide array of psychology, philosophy, sociology….” Durling commented that the actor is being called an overnight success but he has been working for 30 years, to which the droll Waltz said, “Yes, but the success was overnight.”
Vera Farmiga did a folk dance as she crossed the stage, her whimsical entrance setting the tone for her interview. Just into the first question, Durling, who was holding Farmiga’s purse in his lap, said “Your phone is [vibrating].” “I see that,” she said, looking mischievously at Durling’s lap as he handed her her purse, thus sending the audience into hysterical laughter. In her Academy-Award nominated role as Alex in Up in the Air, Farmiga emits an enviable confidence on screen. “I didn’t feel confident,” she confessed. “I had just given birth. I had gained some weight, hormones were raging. I came into this role feeling very insecure.” As for holding her own with co-star George Clooney, Farmiga said, “The first time we met was 10 days after my C-section. I couldn’t find anything that fit. But [Clooney] is wholly warmth. He looks you directly in the eyes. We clicked right away.”
All the honorees then returned to the stage for a question and answer session after which actor—and Santa Barbara resident—Denis Franz presented the awards. “Cinema Vanguard honorees are those who take the road less traveled,” Franz said. “[And for that] we applaud you.”