Although they don’t make life-or-death decisions, the jurors of
the Santa Barbara International Film Festival have a serious job to
perform. Selected from a pool of film-industry professionals, with
résumés ranging from success to stardom, they show up beneath the
radar and perform their tasks under a cloak of modest obscurity.
Yet they play a vital role in the success and prestige of the
In its 21 years, the festival has grown from a modest community
event to its present-day bonanza of glitz and celebrities,
tributes, and panels. But the jury keeps it real. They remind us
that it’s the movies that are the true heart of the festival.
Nine years ago, former festival director Renée Missel enlisted
producer and part-time Santa Barbara resident Ilene Kahn Power to
chair the jury. The job requires first-rate film connections, good
recruiting skills, solving scheduling challenges, juggling the
logistics of housing and transportation, and dealing with emergency
dropouts—in other words, an adept producer. Ilene, the
award-winning producer of Stalin, Gia, Traffic, and, most recently,
Elvis, is perfectly suited for the job. Three years ago her husband
Derek Power joined her as co-chair. A Film Festival boardmember, he
heads his own personal management company. One of his clients,
Stewart Copeland of The Police, will be screening Everyone Stares:
The Police Inside Out at the festival.
Under Roger Durling, the cinematic scope of the festival has
greatly expanded. This year, five separate juries will judge five
categories of films: American Independents, International Features,
Cinema from Latin America and Spain, Documentaries, and Shorts. At
least 49 of the films will be U.S. or world premieres. The jurors
will give out 12 awards, with prizes totaling almost $100,000.
These awards will be announced on February 12 at the Arlington
Theatre before the screening of the final film of the festival,
Thank You for Smoking. One of the awards, the Gold Vision Award,
comes with a distribution deal from York Entertainment.
“Awards are important,” said executive director Roger Durling,
“because they help promote a film—bring exposure to it. And for a
festival, they are vital, because filmmakers love to have a film in
competition—it’s more prestigious.” As Derek Power put it, “Hip
films with a future are showing here, and winning this festival
translates into public awareness, which is good for the film and
good for the festival. The more significant the awards, the more
filmmakers will want to premiere their films here. And with more
films showing here for the first time, more buyers will be coming
to see them. All of which moves the festival toward greater
prestige. And we would like to be the premiere West Coast film
Past jurors represent an eclectic who’s who of world cinema.
Over the years, festival-goers may have recognized Julie Christie
or Stockard Channing or Elliott Gould, but may not have realized
they were watching movies with some of today’s great directors,
writers, producers, and composers. “We pick successful
professionals, but we try to get the creative ones,” said Ilene.
This year’s dozen jurors include director Alfonso Arau (Like Water
for Chocolate, A Walk in the Clouds), producer Michael Nozik
(Motorcycle Diaries, Syriana), actor Shaun Toub (Crash), and
journalist and author Ann Louise Bardach, among others.
“The people we want are busy people, but they are honored and
thrilled to have five days in Santa Barbara looking at four films a
day,” said Ilene. “It is very important that these films get seen
by the jurors on the big screen and in a cinematic environment.”
The jurors will see two to four movies a day. “We go into
submersion,” said Ilene. “Jurors are supposed to talk only among
themselves, but it is always very spirited.” They then make their
choices during a long afternoon of deliberating. “It’s a lively
discussion,” said Derek. “People have strong opinions, but we’ve
never had any bloody conversations.” “We haven’t had one juror who
hasn’t asked to return,” added Ilene.