Of the 200 films being screened during the 10 days of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, many are in direct competition with each other, to be viewed by a panel of 10 jurors, with the winners certainly being bound for greater success. The judges, who are film professionals from various backgrounds-writers, actors, producers, etc.-spend several long days during the film festival critiquing films in the premier setting. “World premieres and U.S. premieres are a big deal because they get the attention of distributors and get attention for filmmakers,” said Carol Marshall, SBIFF’s head of public relations.
How each judge watches the films depends upon the individual, but everyone seemed to be on the same page that a captivating story was among the most important features in any film, short or long. “Basically, we’re watching it like any audience member-looking for how the film tells the story,” said Gil Kenan, a filmmaker with an Oscar nomination for Monster House under his belt. “We’re going to watch all of the films put in front of us and have it out-which film do we like best? It’s that simple.”
Judges’ backgrounds are as varied as the entries in the contest. Two of the 10 are actors James Cromwell-well known for his roles in L.A. Confidential and Babe, and more recently as George H.W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s W.-and Efren Ramirez of Napoleon Dynamite fame. But there are also writers such as Kenan and Leslie Caveny, who recently made the film Penelope. “It’s interesting standing in judgment of the work of others, but I’m not seeing it that way,” said Caveny. “I’m celebrating and appreciating the miracle of their hard work.”
Considered an honor, many people want to judge films at SBIFF, but Roger Durling hand-selects only a few every year. While some of this year’s judges are veterans, there are also a few-such as Caveny, Kenan, and actor and filmmaker Gary Anthony Williams-who are concentrating on short film submissions. “If it’s funny, they’d better make me laugh, and they’d better do it fast,” said Williams, who watched more than 600 short films last week in preparation for next month’s L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival.
Dave Stein, a Santa Barbara resident who used to develop scripts for a film production company, is serving his third year as a SBIFF judge. “I thought there was a lot of quality in the animated films,” he said. “I look for technical and visual achievement, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to story.”
The judges will be deciding on the best independent, foreign, Spanish-language, Eastern European, documentary, live and animated short, and student films. Tune in on closing night to see what they pick.
The judges’ awards will be announced on Sunday, February 1, at SBIFF 2009’s closing night festivities at 7:30 p.m., at the Arlington Theatre, along with The Independent-sponsored Audience Choice Award, the Fund for Santa Barbara’s Social Justice Award, and the winners of the 10-10-10 student filmmaking competition. The film Lightblub will play after the awards.