Forest Whitaker Talks Acting, Uganda, and Why Idi Amin Wasn’t
All Bad

by Matt KettmannPaul
Wellman | photos by

Forest%20Whitaker.jpgIn The Last King of Scotland,
Forest Whitaker becomes the notorious Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. To
deliver the performance of a lifetime — and one that’s likely to
land him the Oscar after already netting the Golden
Globe — Whitaker spent months researching Amin’s life and legacy,
learned to speak Swahili, and mastered the distinct Ugandan accent.
And I would know because, last year, I spent nearly a month in
Uganda, covering their presidential elections and reporting on the
country’s 20-year war against crazed northern rebels. Whitaker
comes to the Arlington Theatre on Saturday, February 3 at 8
to accept SBIFF’s Riviera Award. We spoke a couple
weeks ago about his role, Ugandan politics, and Santa Barbara. This
is an edited version of that Q&A, which can be found in its
entirety online at

What did you know about Idi Amin before doing the
Very little. As a kid, I had this idea of a mad
dictator who killed all these people, but I really had no idea. As
I get older, I keep in check my opinions on individuals who are
presented to me that way from other countries, particularly people
of color. I don’t know what is really occurring, so I don’t know
anything. And then I went on this real long journey of research,
both intellectual and emotional, to understand and play this

How? I started in Los Angeles, nine months
beforehand. I started studying all the documentary footage I could
find, and read all the books I could find on him, and the
interviews. One of the main keys was studying the history of the
region and then the big key was studying Swahili. I had to trick my
mind into believing that English was my second language, you know,
like when trying to formulate my words. When I got to Uganda, my
dialect shifted from a technical understanding into a more organic
phase — what different sounds meant, what gestures meant, how one
word is played with.

And certainly, I met a million people, too. I met with Amin’s
brothers, his sisters, his ministers, his generals, his
girlfriends. Then it was trying to understand, at the core, what
it’s like to be Ugandan, and then understanding the concept of what
it’s like to be a father figure of this country and what it’s like
to be a father in an African family.

Forest%20Whitaker%20Street.jpgThough you play this brutal
dictator, not every Ugandan thinks he’s so evil. How did you come
to realize that?
It’s like the actor who played my
minister — he said they wouldn’t have theater in Uganda if it
wasn’t for Idi Amin. Then another person will say he started that
radio station, Number One. And the other one will say Idi Amin got
everyone to start speaking their native languages again because
they were losing them and he forced them. The unfortunate event of
kicking out of the country all the Asians was celebrated in Uganda,
because Indians controlled 80 to 90 percent of the economy.
Historically, or mythically, they don’t treat the Ugandans very
well. That’s what everyone told me. So now I’ve met many Ugandan
businessmen who are African Ugandans. [In Amin’s time] there
weren’t really any African businessmen. But now there are, and it’s
because he kicked out the Asians.

Then all of a sudden you start to see, it’s not necessarily an
excuse, but you start to see a different face, a different part of
Idi Amin. [Pan-Africans explain that] he’s one of a few African
leaders who said, “Get out. We can take care of ourselves.” And
they had to leave, and they did.

Did you have to navigate some of the Ugandan politics
during your time there?
The government and [President
Yoweri] Museveni truly gave us complete usage of the country. The
movie was made for eight million bucks, and we could have never
made it in the manner it was made without Museveni’s help. As a
result, the military you see in the movie is really the army,
Entebbe Airport is really Entebbe, and we’re really in

I read that you used native Ugandans in the crew. How’d
that work out?
It was positive, but it also had
difficulties. Maybe 50 percent of the crew was Ugandan, and
probably 90 percent of them had never worked on a film before. They
were learning as they were going. But it was different for some,
because if you hire a tailor, he’s still a tailor. It’s just
getting used to the rhythm and the like.

But I think, personally, two things: One, just being in Uganda,
for me as an actor, I couldn’t have played the part if it was shot
somewhere else — South Africa specifically, which is where they
wanted to shoot the film. Secondly, those people who worked on the
film worked so hard on it, and it helped keep the authenticity of
the film. Because they would say if something wasn’t really correct
or if something was wrong. It was daunting, too, for me, because
every time I gave a speech, I was surrounded by people who had
actually seen Idi Amin speaking.

Everyone is saying this is your greatest role since
Charlie Parker in Bird. Were you aware you were doing something
I knew it was a really complicated, intense
character to play, and I knew it was going to challenge me. I can’t
say I knew it would be received in the way it’s being received,
because clearly it’s being received so well. I can say I knew if I
could pull it off, it would be something unique. I was afraid maybe
I couldn’t, too, and maybe that’s what fueled me to work so hard. I
felt like I had done what I could do and, in the end, people were
saying it’s got something to say, that my performance was really
strong and powerful and special. So it means a lot to me because I
got so much from being there, and the chance to give back, too; you
don’t always get that in a role. It’s a great gift to me. It’s a
reward for working so hard because it could have also just

What are your thoughts on Santa Barbara? Santa
Barbara is one of the places where my family goes the most as a
vacation spot. We even spent the Millennium there when the century
changed. It’s close, it’s quiet — we love it. Yet it’s still arty
and sophisticated. The people are interesting. Sometimes I feel
like I’m looking at real natives walking up the street.

Coming Up for Air

A Midfest Report from SBIFF

by Josef WoodardPaul
Wellman| photos by

Miller%20%26%20Hickenlooper.jpgDroves of regularly well-adjusted
citizens found themselves sucked into dark rooms last weekend,
depriving themselves of proper sleep and diet. Yes, it’s time for
the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which in its
impressive 22 years has established itself firmly on our cultural
calendar. For some, it’s a time to get face time with Hollywood’s
work force, including stars. For more serious types, SBIFF is an
excuse to escape the real world, while also, ironically,
experiencing more of the world than would otherwise be possible in
a given 11-day period.

Sacha%20Baron%20Cohen.jpgIn the flesh-and-blood news after
SBIFF’s opening weekend, Will Smith played the
real-life role of America’s Nice Guy, and Sacha Baron
was England’s Bad Boy. Smith charmed his way through
a “this is your life” evening of clips and chatter at his Modern
Master evening at the Arlington (we’re all still scratching our
heads as to what possibly makes him a “modern master”). Meanwhile,
Borat was Boorat: Baron Cohen, appearing mostly as Baron Cohen, was
generally a rude a-hole who left a stinky vibe in the Lobero, apart
from some obviously rehearsed comedy bits being filmed for
Borat!’s DVD release. Cameras and basic
civility were not allowed in the theater. Word had it that
Helen Mirren, at her tribute evening, was a very
different kind of Brit, an articulate and witty sort, and without
any prima donna airs or stuffy Queenly mien.

Helen%20Mirren%20Award.jpgSome of the more interesting film folk
encounters at SBIFF happens at panels, where the filmmakers — not
just the acting window dressing — talk about their craft. At the
director’s panel, we got words to the wise from some current faves.
The star of this panel was clearly Alejandro González
, whose Amores
 — his masterpiece so far — wowed the SBIFF
crowd a few years ago, and whose much Oscar-nominated
Babel features local boy Brad Pitt and
more story stitch-work. Responding to a question about whether he’s
emotionally haunted by the often dark terrain he gets to in his
films, Gonzáles Iñárritu compared his situation as a director to
that of a doctor, saying, “You cannot get too attached,
emotionally, or you will kill [your characters]. You have to live
it, but you also have to be careful.”

Valerie Faris and Jonathan
, of Little Miss Sunshine
fame, win sleeper-hit-of-the- year bragging rights. Faris touched
on what made this movie special: “We wanted it to be a comedy, but
it had to be believable. If it wasn’t truthful, it would be a
hollow laugh. The biggest challenge was to create a family with a
history.” Mission accomplished.

Will%20Smith%20Group%20Award.jpgMore cogent commentary came from
Todd Field, who was on this panel years ago
following his luminous In the Bedroom and
is now promoting the intriguing Little
, intriguing mainly because of its avoidance
of the usual Hollywood crutch of sympathetic characters and happy
endings. Directing, he noted, “is always about process, which you
must trust,” later musing about “the strangeness of how things come
together in a film.”

On a lighter note, we also learned about the early work life of
John Lasseter (Pixar domo and director of
Cars and the Toy
series), who was once the Oscar Meyer Weiner
driver in Hollywood, and a tour guide on Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise
ride. Show-biz aspirants take heart.

We get bombarded by celebrity glitz and hype all year ’round
from an increasing number of media-saturating angles. The real core
and deeper value of this and many another good festival is the
window it offers on both international cinema and international
worldviews. At SBIFF, the world awaits, and one can sample from
perspectives around the globe.

A list of memorable international films seen on opening weekend,
for this viewer’s money: the Bosnian slice-of-life film
Grbavica, Finnish director Aki
’s hypnotic neo-noir film Lights in
the Dusk
, the bittersweet (ultimately opting for
sweet) Russian orphan saga The Italian,
the German films Pingpong and
The Lives of Others — a cool domestic
psychodrama and an engaging Berlin Wall-era history lesson,
respectively. Mexico’s In the Pit is a
disarmingly strong documentary about a mammoth bridge construction
project in Mexico City, but is actually a humane exploration into
working-class realities, along with nuts-and-bolts marveling about
civil engineering.

In a film-about-film corner unto itself — another critical
aspect of any thinking film festival — is The Pervert’s
Guide to Cinema
. Despite the titillating title, it is
a funny and incisive analysis and deconstruction of
Hitchcock, Lynch,
Chaplin, Tarkovsky, etc., by the
droll, scruffy and on-location scholar Slavoj

For real-world relevance and cinematic zeitgeist, the most
significant film of the festival so far (as seen by this scribe)
was the rough but moving Ahlaam, filmed
cheaply and guerilla-style on the streets of war-torn Baghdad.
Writer/director Mohamed Al Daradji, an active and
approachable guy around town for a few days, spoke after the first
screening about his intent to show the Iraqi torment at ground
level, with empathetic personal stories. He summed up: “These
people are humans, not just part of the numbers of dead every day
in the media.”

Highlights of this weekend’s live-artist-meets-film front are
tonight’s conversation with the festival’s guest director,
Michael Apted, following a screening of
49 Up, the latest installment in his
visionary documentary series (Thu., Feb. 1, 6:30pm, Victoria Hall
Theater, 33 W. Victoria St.), and a screening of An
Inconvenient Truth
, with Al Gore and
Davis Guggenheim in the house (Fri., Feb. 2, 6pm,
Arlington Theatre). Forest (Last King of Scotland)
speaks at the Riviera Award (Sat., Feb. 3,
7:30pm, Arlington Theatre). Saturday’s panel discussions are Women
in the Biz (Feb. 3, 11am, Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St.)
and Composer’s Panel: Scoring the Film (Feb. 3, 2pm, Lobero

And remember, when you’re handed those ballots at the door to
your designated theater, do take a second to vote after the films.
This is the stuff the Independent-sponsored Audience
Choice Award is made of. We’re all critics on this bus. Join

Doing Something About It

Davis Guggenheim, Director of An Inconvenient Truth,
on Environmentalism and Al Gore

by Gerald Carpenter | courtesy

2006_an_inconvenient_truth_001.jpgDirector Davis Guggenheim takes very
little credit for the phenomenal success of the Oscar-nominated
documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Far from claiming to
be the auteur of the film, Guggenheim said he is “more like … a

Guggenheim, who comes to S.B. with Al Gore on Friday, February 2
to receive the Attenborough Award for Excellence in Nature
Filmmaking, admitted that before Truth, he had not been an
environmental activist. “I’m pretty well-read and I probably would
side with the earth in most environmental issues,” he said. “But it
wasn’t my primary thing in life.”

That was before he was approached by producers Laurie David and
Lawrence Bender, who said they had an idea for a movie based on Al
Gore’s slide show. “My first instinct was that it was not the best
subject for a movie,” said Guggenheim. “I tried to talk them out of
it.” But then he attended a slide show and “was kind of shaken — to
the core.” So he agreed, explaining, “My objective as a filmmaker
became to try to capture that experience so that regular people
like me would have the same experience.”

“Regular” might describe Guggenheim when discussing his prior
environmentalism. But as a director of such breakthrough television
series as Deadwood, The Shield, Alias, 24, ER, and
NYPD Blue, he is by no means a civilian in Hollywood.

There’s no question, however, that his involvement with An
Inconvenient Truth
exponentially grew his visibility. The
Oscar nomination came through the day we were scheduled to chat,
and his office was in an uproar, teetering on the brink of being
overwhelmed. Yet during our conversation, his responses were
thoughtful and generous.

One of his concerns was keeping the film above partisan
politics. “I think it will always have the reputation of being a
film with a political agenda because Al Gore is in it,” he said.
“But I think most people find it pretty even-handed. It’s not
preachy or sanctimonious. It doesn’t take any pot-shots.”

Knowing he couldn’t top Al Gore’s presentation of the facts,
Guggenheim’s concern was to make a story of it. “After I saw the
slide show,” he said, “the key for me was, ‘How do I personalize
it?’ The information Al gathered is so brilliantly assembled, and
that is certainly the thing that shakes you. But in order for me to
ask an audience to sit for 90 minutes in a darkened theater, I had
to get them personally invested in a human being. I think that’s
why people watch movies, and not for facts and figures. So, I
wanted to tell the story of how Al Gore came to this — how he has
been struggling for 40 years to tell this story, and how the many
obstacles he has encountered along the way have threatened to
vanquish him. So, today is a great victory. Now, Al Gore is going
to be at the Academy Awards.”

Gore was reluctant to put much personal information into the
film. “His one requirement,” said Guggenheim, “was the science be
presented accurately and fairly. And my one requirement was we get
personal. And it took time for me to earn his trust.”

The director coaxed an exciting narrative of discovery out of
his subject. “The spark,” said Guggenheim, “was young Al Gore in
college, signing up for this class. Who would have known it was
[global warming visionary] Roger Revelle, a visiting professor?”
Gore had his eyes opened and has spent the rest of his life trying
to open our eyes.

Now that he knows him, Guggenheim is baffled by the image of
Gore as arrogant or stiff. “The Al Gore I came to know must have
always been that way — thoughtful, witty, considerate, driven. He’s
funny, and when he’s got the venue where he can speak his mind,
he’s brilliant.”

Guggenheim’s own career options are suddenly much wider. “I love
documentaries,” he said. “I’m lucky to go between dramatic stuff
and documentaries. There is nothing more satisfying than making a
good film and then feeling that, after the audience sees it, they
might go out and do something about it. But nothing will ever come
close to this experience. Something happened with this movie that
is above and beyond the movie. Things are happening. Things are
changing. I feel very lucky.”

The 4·1·1 on the 10-10-10

An Inside Look at SBIFF’s Student Filmmaking Contests

by Molly FreedenbergPaul Wellman | photo by

SBIFF%20Opening%20Night.jpgThe Santa Barbara International Film
Festival is an especially exciting time for young filmmakers and
screenwriters — and not just because they might hear Will Smith
speak or bump into Sacha Baron Cohen at Java Jones. Thanks to the
10-10-10 Student Filmmaking and Screenwriting competitions, Santa
Barbara high school and college students have a chance to actually
participate in the festival and, with help from professional
mentors, in the film industry. In fact, last year’s addition of the
Screenwriting Competition to the four-year-old Filmmaking
Competition makes the process even more of a real-thing-in-training
than it originally was.

This is how it works: Santa Barbara high schools and colleges
held internal competitions to select the five best screenwriters
and filmmakers from their institution. From those submissions (65
writers and 30 filmmakers this year), a judging panel chose five
for each contest from each school level. First, the writers were
paired with industry mentors and given Grimm Brothers fairytales to
adapt into 10-page scripts. Next, those scripts were passed on to
filmmaker finalists, whose responsibility it was to turn them into
10-minute films on a 10-day production schedule.

And just like in the real film business, the writers and
directors engaged in varying degrees of collaboration: some writers
were finished when they handed their scripts over, while others
worked with directors on rewrites up until the last day of
shooting. Since scripts are judged separately from the films made
from them, the writers don’t necessarily have to be that

“My name is going to be up on the screen as the writer,” said
Charles Heining, a 21-year-old Brooks Institute of Photography
student who worked closely with the directing finalist, 24-year-old
City College student Dylan Penev, on his adaptation of
Cinderella. Some of the changes Penev requested, said
Heining, were cutting down scenes for time and changing the Fairy
Godfather character from a gangster to an effeminate gay man. But
Heining didn’t mind. “I’m not squeamish about cutting my own
stuff,” he said. “And ultimately, [the film] is [Penev’s] vision,
so I figured I should be trying to make it a collaboration.”

It seems the collaborations with the most learning potential,
though, are those between students and mentors. Dos Pueblos High
School student Alex Dunn said Jeff Arch (who wrote Sleepless in
) was a great help with his screenplay adaptation of
Hansel and Gretel into a story about a media mogul, his
kids, and their evil stepmother. For Levi Michaels, an 18-year-old
San Marcos student (and Indy contributor), working with
Robert Michael Lewis (Kung Fu, The Invisible Man) was
invaluable. “I would tell him my idea and he would say, ‘Yeah, you
could do this to make it better, or you could this or this,’” said
Michaels, who adapted Little Red Riding Hood as a story
about a high school student who sleeps with her math teacher to get
into college. “That was a big help. … He filled in the gaps for
me.” In fact, it’s this experience that has inspired Michaels to
seek a career in the film industry.

All 10 films will be screened, and all winners announced, at
1 p.m. on Sunday, February 4 at the Marjorie Luke
. The winning films in both the high school and
college categories also will be screened during the festival’s
closing ceremonies at the Arlington Theatre later that night.

Film Noir

The Brooks 35mm Project

by Brett Leigh Dicks

As rain fell on Santa Barbara last Saturday night, the flashes
of light that pierced the cloud-laden skies were unusually confined
to the Riviera. This wasn’t some strange climatic aberration, but
rather the 2007 installment of the Brooks Institute’s Kodak 35mm
Project. Huge banks of lights were erected outside the institute’s
Jefferson Campus which, in addition to flooding the building in
light, simulated random flashes of lightning.

Inside the building, the scene resembled a form of poetic chaos.
Teams tended to cameras and monitors, actors familiarized
themselves with marks, and technicians were locked in deep
conversation. For the past few years, Brooks Institute has staged
the Kodak 35mm Project at the same time as the Santa Barbara
International Film Festival. With the community drenched in cinema,
the project’s producers capitalize on the abounding excitement and
inject it into their annual student project.

Unlike last year, which saw the project utilizing both the city
and the festival as a backdrop, the 2007 offering is confined to
Brooks’ several campuses. While the production remains untitled, it
is a romantic horror film centered on two young adults trespassing
through a haunted school. The project utilizes the expertise of
numerous industry mentors, but its execution resides completely in
the hands of the students. And while the project offers the
students hands-on experience in the production of a film, perhaps
one of its greatest assets is the sense of community it

“One of the students pointed out that this is art school and we
don’t have a football team,” offered the project’s executive
producer Judy Trotter. “But, for these students, this is their big
game. It’s a once-a-year thing that brings the entire student group
together. So much of art is a solo journey. As an artist you are
off in your own world doing your own thing, and this is the moment
when these students learn to work as a group and as part of a

With a crew numbering 150 and the estimated value of the project
topping $1 million, the Kodak 35mm Project is certainly no small
affair. As valuable as the collaborative side is, the project also
provides an opportunity for students to think on their feet. The
production requires months to plan, but its execution takes place
during just a handful of days. And, as familiar as students may be
with their skills and craft, the real-world application of those
talents always throws up more than the occasion hurdle.

“Yesterday we got our last shot off at two minutes to midnight
and we finished right on time,” explained first assistant director
Robert Hargreaves. “But things have become a little crazy today
because of the rain. And there are so many more concerns with all
those people working outside with the electronics in the rain. So
stressing about what’s going on outside while also stressing about
what’s going on inside has been a new challenge.”

Challenge is what the Brooks Institute’s Kodak 35mm Project is
all about. And as the students work with mentors to pull together
this year’s film, the experience will no doubt stand them in good
stead for the challenges that lay ahead in their chosen

A Matter of Tact

Tom Cavanagh and Heather Graham Tip Their Hats to Classic

by Brett Leigh Dicks| courtesy

graymatters09_high.jpgAs two dancers frolic across a dance
floor to the elegant serenade of Irving Berlin’s smoky standard
“Cheek to Cheek” in the opening scene of Gray
 — which premieres this Sunday, February 4 as
SBIFF’s closing-night film — it’s not Fred Astaire and Ginger
Rogers, but rather the whimsical pairing of Tom
and Heather Graham. The couple
saunters and slips and trips and turns across the wooden floor of a
New York dance studio before hitting their stride, much to the
delight of fellow dance students.

“That dancing was so fun,” explained Graham. “I have always
loved dancing and dance scenes in movies, so it was great to have
the chance to work with a choreographer and finally do it. It was
hard; we were sweating our butts off out there. But it’s also a
high too — doing a dance scene like that is a complete rush.”

As the scene suggests, Gray Matters offers reverence to
those classic ’40s romantic comedies that were so stylishly laced
with music and dance. Graham plays Gray, a vivacious advertising
executive, to Cavanagh’s elegantly awkward Sam. And while the film
might very well seek to encapsulate the essence of those by-gone
classics, writer and director Sue Kramer also
packs a very contemporary punch: Gray and Sam are actually brother
and sister who end up falling for the same woman.

“It is a very personal film on so many different levels,”
explained Cavanagh. “Sue Kramer has a sister who is gay and she is
foremost telling that story. But she always wanted to do romantic
comedies, so this film is also a tip of the hat to the ’40s
comedies and musicals. In both of these aspects the subject matter
really means something to her.”

There is certainly no questioning the exquisite execution of
this story, for joining Graham and Cavanagh is Bridget
as Charlie, a suitably desirable love interest
for the siblings, and Rachel Shelley as the
professionally demanding Julia Barlett. Alan
and Sissy Spacek also chime in to
further color this irreverent ensemble. But as strong as the cast
might be, they would be nothing without Kramer’s script.

“It’s very easy for actors to take credit for the end result,”
affirmed Cavanagh. “But really it all comes down to the writing and
script. And, with this film, Sue gave us such a personal story and
incredible script to work with. All the humor and tenderness that
we present comes from the writing. I think often times it’s those
stories, the ones closest to the heart, that are the ones best

As vibrant as the cast might be, the essence of the film
revolves around the charismatic connection made between Graham and
Cavanagh’s sibling characters. “Sue thought Tom and I would have
chemistry together,” said Graham. “And we do have a lot of
similarities. We both talk really fast, as you have probably
already found out! But Tom was really sweet. He basically said,
‘Just beat up on me as much as you want.’ So it was fun to think of
each other as brother and sister and push each other around and
tease and make fun of one other.”

And as close siblings, it makes sense they would inevitably be
attracted to the same type of person. As the story unfolds, Sam and
Charlie embark upon an exploration of their romantic alliance,
while Gray sets about trying to understand and accept who she is.
And, just as Cavanagh and Graham’s dynamic transcends the screen,
Cavanagh and Moynahan’s does too. “It’s weird because sometimes it
happens that you do have the dynamic of the movie with the people
involved,” laughed Graham. “I definitely got along great with
Bridget, but Tom and Bridget had a really fun relationship too.
They got along really well and, I know it just reflected the story
of the movie and it’s not like they ever meant it, but sometimes I
did feel like the third wheel.”

But Gray Matters is ultimately a film of inclusion,
that timeless story where love knows no barriers. And as much as
this story is about challenging society’s norms, it’s about
challenging the internal ones, too.

“I liked the idea of the traditional romantic comedy style with
a very unlikely story,” concluded Graham. “It’s not some dark,
tortured movie about being gay. It’s very sweet and celebratory and
about embracing who you are. It’s about learning how to accept and
love yourself. And I think that’s everyone’s journey in life
regardless of who you are or what you’re going through.”

Celluloid Peeps

Film Festival Highlights

Text & photos by Shannon Kelley

Day One

“Pace yourself, Shannon!” This advice came to me around midnight
on the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s opening night
from SBIFF Creative Director Roger Durling. Maybe he was simply
concerned my carriage would turn into a pumpkin, my dress (okay,
pants) into rags, and my entourage into mice. But after looking at
the clock, I determined he was right and darted out of the La Dolce
Vita-themed Paseo Nuevo, snagged myself a cab, and landed at home
in time for a quick game of keep-away with my dog and with enough
wits about me to set my alarm.

If you’d seen that night’s premiere of Factory Girl, the tragic
tale of local lost soul Edie Sedgwick, you’d understand why I took
the Durl’s advice to heart. While the cast was fabulous  —  the
flick was dark, offering a dizzying glimpse of a wild ride that
spiraled quickly downward into a sadly clichéd abyss. Not exactly
the kind of movie that puts you in party mode, but then, that’s
beside the point on the festival’s opening night, when 11 days of
movies, movie stars, and parties were stretched out before me, just
waiting to be enjoyed. And I had no intention of missing a single
bit of it. Sedgwick may have lived fast and died young, but I was
happy to peep fast, pretend I’m young, and pace myself.

Day Two

While, as Dame Helen Mirren put it during the SBIFF’s
Outstanding Performance Award presentation on Friday night, “it’s
always possible to make a tit of yourself,” she proved herself the
anti-tit. She was charming, humble, and, at times, shockingly
hilarious; stuck using a handheld mike due to some problems with
the clip-on, she declared it too phallic and then proceeded to lick
it. (What would Her Majesty say?) Roger Durling conducted the
interview and when I caught up with him later, he said he was
almost too nervous to enjoy it — that is, right up until the lights
dimmed for a set of clips, when Mirren reached out for his hand,
crying, and said this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her.
William H. Macy presented Mirren with the award, declaring her a
babe and noting that, while she’s known for “dropping her knickers”
whenever given the chance, she’s one of the most gifted actresses

The after party, which went down at Brooks Institute’s Montecito
Campus, was a sight. The estate is enormous and stunning, and
although rumored to be haunted, it was on its best behavior. The
grounds were lit up red and blue, quality snacks abounded, and men
bearing trays of what looked like overgrown condoms circulated.
(The mysterious items were actually samples of sponsor Innovative
Skincare’s moisturizing sunscreen, which, according to Indy
Healthspan columnist/aging-well guru Michael Seabaugh, works
miracles. Upon hearing that, I — and everyone else within
earshot — filled our pockets.) We called it a night pretty early,
because this was but Day Two and we needed to rest up. And, as any
smart girl knows, it’s always best to get out before making a tit
of yourself.

Day Three

When Will Smith strolled across the stage to take his seat for
the Modern Master Award event, he was bubbling with energy, and
quickly got the crowd on board, earning laughs when he pointed to
the piece of paper that was stuck to his shoe, which read,
“Reserved for Friends of Will Smith.” No sooner had he taken his
seat his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, appeared onstage, running up to
remove the scrap that still dangled from his — it should be
noted — very large shoe. It was a classic husband-and-wife moment,
which was totally appropriate as, throughout the course of the
interview, it became clear that husband and father are the roles
Smith cherishes most.

Smith was animated, charming, and articulate, and more than
willing to get deep, saying (more than once) he wakes up every day
and thinks, “What can I do to make the world better today?” The
artist formerly known as the Fresh Prince was totally inspiring in
a non-preachy sort of way, but also not above going for the easy
laugh, getting fresh with Maltin while demonstrating what it’s like
acting in a special effects-heavy flick, turning to the plant
behind him and saying, “Okay, Leonard, this is you,” and proceeding
to give the plant gaga eyes while stroking it ever so gently.

Chris Gardner, upon whose life Smith’s Oscar-nominated
performance in The Pursuit of Happyness is based, introduced Smith,
and quintessential movie star/couch-jumper Tom Cruise presented him
with the award; it was obvious both men have tons of respect for
the guy who taught the world how to get jiggy with it.

I left feeling motivated to make the world a better place, but
first, I had a party to hit. And what a party. Hundreds of filmies
stormed the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel in Montecito, wandering
from room to room, reveling in the decadence. (I heard the Biltmore
had generously footed the bill, to the tune of $300k.) Music pumped
as go-go girls danced in gauzy cages on platforms, while men ogled
them from the dance floor. My date and I were taking it all in when
some male coworkers excitedly gathered us up, announcing they’d
lucked into a couch. We followed them to the prized perch, and
weren’t especially surprised to discover why they were so thrilled,
taking our seats directly beneath a perfectly sculpted — and not
especially clothed — derriere.

We partied into the wee hours and, though the VIPs were in a
room cordoned off and guarded by a young man who took his job very
seriously (i.e., “No Press, sorry”), that velvet rope proved a
non-issue, as star-gazing was fairly easy to come by: Chris Gardner
on the dance floor, Christopher Lloyd in line waiting for a drink,
Ron Livingston in the hall.

It was an over-the-top evening celebrating a truly down-to-earth
talent. And for a moment there, soaking up the scene while sucking
down a raspberry-stuffed chocolate bomb, the world really was a
better place.

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