The Santa Barbara International Film Festival can be counted on for many things. Being a SBIFF freak, my favorite is the fact that, almost without fail, I leave every event thinking something along the lines of “Well, there’s no way they can top that!” And then, somehow, they do.
Exhibit A: Last year’s creation of the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film, which went to the inimitable Kirk Douglas himself, an honest-to-god legend. How on earth could they top that? Two words: Vinnie Barbarino.
Although-standing at the podium and sandwiched between photos of Douglas on one side, Travolta on the other-SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling suggested that the common thread between the two leading men was the dimpled chin, if you really consider John Travolta’s body of work, you realize that the man who sang “Greased Lightnin'” is every bit as legendary. He’s turned out one iconic performance after another, and, importantly, it was he, in Pulp Fiction, who let us know the effects of the Metric System on McDonalds’ burger-naming conventions.
But first, the party, which went down at the beautiful Biltmore on one of those recent, spookily balmy November nights: Black tie-bedecked peeps mingled while those of us there in our professional capacity took our places along the edge of the red carpet. While waiting for the big names to arrive, I befriended two little names-Logan Carmody and Charlie Zimmerman of the Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press, two journalistic prodigies who charmed everyone, including Hairspray producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, Kirk Douglas, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, and (less impressively) yours truly.
Post-arrivals, I made my way to the dining room, and found my assigned seat at a table that included S.B. celebs Dennis Franz, Christopher Lloyd, and Andy Davis and People magazine’s Scott Huver. And, amazingly, the night only continued to improve. The conversation was hilarious, the food delicious, the program fantastic. We were treated to several montages-one featuring nothing but dance sequences-as well as a video message from Samuel L. Jackson before Kirk Douglas, who’d hand-picked Travolta as this year’s award recipient, took to the podium to present the award. Douglas, for the record, was absolutely on fire, earning a roar from the audience when he said of Travolta, “I’ve loved him since I was a little boy!”
Travolta accepted with a sweet, humble thanks, saying, “An award like this makes you think about what you’ve done. Have I been a good man? Have I been a humanitarian? I don’t know if I have, but I know that Kirk Douglas has.” While everyone can understand the “I’m not worthy” sentiment, I think we all knew the answer to those questions.
And so, eventually, I left, wondering, as I do, if the SBIFF would ever top this. But, happily, I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that question, too.