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Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s 12th annual Virtuosos Award
Virtuosos Charm Arlington Audience
Moderator Dave Karger Kept Night Fun, Informative
Friday, February 8, 2019
Last night at The Arlington Theatre marked the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s 12th annual Virtuosos Award, and the excitement was palpable. A long line wrapped itself around the theater in the cold evening as eager film fans vied for a chance to see seven of Hollywood’s latest breakout stars. The eighth honoree, Academy Award Best Actress nominee Yalitza Aparicio, collected her award last week to tumultuous applause after a screening of Roma, as director Alfonso Cuarón looked on. Aparicio spoke of her role as an indigenous woman of color in Hollywood, and her humility charmed the crowd as easily as her natural talent on screen stunned.
Tuesday’s event, however, was moderated by Turner Classic Movies host Dave Karger, who began the celebrations with Steven Yeun (AMC Series The Walking Dead, Okja, Sorry to Bother You). Yeun’s latest performance in the Haruki Murakami–based Korean drama Burning continues to receive international acclaim. Yeun spoke about the impact of his upbringing as a Korean-American in his preparation for the film, which is his first major foreign-language role. “The eyes of my parents were boring over my head,” he laughed, before crediting his background as an Asian-American immigrant for his ability to remain in an ambiguous space as a person and actor. “I felt alien everywhere. It was wonderful. No one else can re-create that.” Yeun spoke eloquently about this ambiguity (possibly due to the hours of discussing philosophy with Burning director Lee Chang-dong during film spadework) and demonstrated this openness to the unknown when considering new genres and roles for his next projects.
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John David Washington
Next, John David Washington took center stage. He recounted how he dove into the world of the ’70s music and art to perfect his perfectly groovy, KKK-infiltrating Ron Stallworth in BlacKkKlansman, which he noted as a film of rich and important history: “That dance sequence? That was not a stunt double — that was me!” Considering his father is actor Denzel Washington and director Spike Lee personally offered him the lead role in his movie, it is easy to assume Washington would not be one to fear failure, but Washington reflected on his somewhat less-than-illustrious career in the NFL and how it continues to follow him. “It was like something you worked on your whole life and it doesn’t work out.” Washington remained aware of the fickleness of the business, noting this paranoia of potential failure that continues to fuel his work ethic in the acting world.
Then, in a sweet moment of excitement, 18-year-old Thomasin McKenzie pointed up to herself on the big screen as she walked across the Arlington stage before taking her seat opposite Karger. Her Kiwi twang surprising all (she employs a flawless American accent in her critically adored role in Leave No Trace), McKenzie looked ahead in her career and hopes to continue to tell authentic stories. “There’s an important pressure to do it right and represent the people right,” she said. Despite whatever genetic predisposition she has toward the craft — McKenzie is the third generation of actresses in her family — she remains a normal, down-to-earth teenager, her eyes widening when talking about the animals she got to work with on the set of Leave No Trace: “If you ever get the opportunity to work with bees, do it!”
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