SBIFF Turns 25

After a Quarter Century, the Film Fest Is More Relevant than Ever

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival began 25 years ago as two people and a typewriter in a small office above the Granada Theatre. Phyllis de Picciotto and Jennie Cushnie may not have originated the idea of a film festival in Santa Barbara, but they made it happen. Taking advantage of an opportunity presented by the newly created Santa Barbara Festival and Events Committee and intended to support tourism in what was considered the offseason, de Picciotto and Cushnie wrote a grant for the then-substantial sum of $20,000. As de Picciotto recalled, “When they gave us the money, we were stuck—we had to go through with it!”

Since then, the rapid pace of technological change that has engulfed all media has swept aside the beloved “art house” movie theaters where earlier generations of viewers became familiar with the work of Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, and even Michael Moore. In their stead, a constantly shifting terrain composed of Netflix queues and barnstorming tours of one-night “filmformances,” in which directors take their films straight to the audience by making personal appearances and answering questions, have replaced what used to be an elaborated secondary market for so-called specialty films, a term that referred to everything from foreign classics to documentaries to midnight cult films.

Within this new landscape for distribution, film festivals such as the SBIFF play an increasingly important role. Today, the creative rush of an ever-expanding number of films flows most powerfully through these great gatherings, which have become our new global town halls; film buffs, journalists, members of the industry, and plain folks come together to share in the unique experience that is watching a film on a real screen in a room full of intrepid strangers.

When asked to sum up her nearly three decades of involvement with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, de Picciotto said, “The film festival belongs to the town of Santa Barbara. It doesn’t belong to any group, and the reason that’s true is because of the volunteers. They are the heart and soul of the festival. Without them, it never would have been possible.”

See all of these articles and many more in the days to come at

• Sandra Bullock Comes to SBIFF

• Spotlight on Santa Barbara Filmakers

• Michael Stuhlbarg Gets a Virtuoso Award Nod at SBIFF


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