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

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

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.


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