As a diehard Santa Barbara film festival buff—aka addict—starting from year one, and as one willingly (and not only just professionally) sucked into the filmic vortex for 10 days each year, I for one can attest to the sensation of slight disorientation mixed with bliss upon realizing that the grand experiment has gone silver. In the beginning, back in the antediluvian days of the mid 1980s, with Phyllis DePiccioto as the impassioned and intrepid spearhead director, hopes were high and prospects were reasonably good that the Santa Barbara International Film Festival would and could make some kind of noise. But, knowing about the inherent fragility of even well-intentioned and well-backed cultural enterprises, we also harbored secret fears that it could also tank, like a lost good cause.
Now, 25 years and four directors later—well into the inspired swim of Roger Durling’s steerage over the past six years—SBIFF has earned some impressive bragging rights, and even an international gleam in the world’s rapidly growing ranks of film festivals. By now, we just assume that the top names of the day (and the pre-Oscar season) will be lured magnetically up to Santa Barbara.
Sure enough, this year’s model brings to town (and in some cases brings locals downtown) the celebrated Oscar-contender likes of Kathryn (The Hurt Locker) Bigelow, Julianne Moore and Colin Firth from A Single Man (and Michael Stuhlbarg from the other “man” movie, A Serious Man), the world’s first billionaire auteur James (Avatar) Cameron, heartfelt homeboy Jeff (Crazy Heart) Bridges, everywoman fave Sandra (The Blind Side) Bullock, Gabby (Precious) Sidibe, Vera (Up in the Air) Farmiga, charming villain Christoph (Inglourious Basterds) Waltz … and the list goes on. The behind-the-scene and star-studded “It Starts with the Script” and “Directors on Directing” are perennial panel lures, for industry people, wannabe industry people, and the rest of us street level film geeks.
SBIFF’s well-connected Hollywood linkages are all well and good on multiple levels, including bolstering the festival’s cred and making good on one obvious boon—proximity to tinsel town— since the festival’s salad days. But certain other aspects spanning the quarter century of the festival’s life have also remained true, including the fact that the finest actual cinematic wares are best when at their most international. English-language films can tend to be sketchy, but the subtitled goods flown in from far corners of the globe tend to make up the real artistic meat of the festival.
Especially at a time when theatrical releases of art films and foreign work has gotten skimpy, the international parade of films has become an increasingly valued and pragmatic resource. SBIFF serves up a true movable cinematic feast for those interested in checking in on the state of the film art, globally, and experienced not via DVD but in the intended manner—on the big screen with a theater full (and they often are full) of both the idly curious and the like-minded film-addicted cases like yourself.
Happy Silver Anniversary, silver screening SBIFF. And to paraphrase our past president (by all reports, hardly a cinephile): Bring it on!