The line was snaking around Sola Street toward Chapala at around 7:50 p.m. on Thursday night, as ticketholders for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s waited to get into the Arlington to take part in the opening night festivities for the 25th annual movie bonanza. Above, the spinning spotlights were lighting up the dark, cloudy sky while, on the ground, the stars of the to-be-screened film Flying Lessons — shot mostly in the Santa Ynez Valley — walked the red carpet into the theater.
Once inside, the place was packed as never before, with plenty of people standing behind the rear rows of the balcony. Soon enough, the screen lit up with this year’s trailer, a similar take as last year’s interviews with local celebs, except this time Santa Barbara’s familiar faces were recounting in quirky ways what life was like back in 1985. Fest president Jeffrey Barbakow reminded us all about what was happening 25 years ago — Out of Africa won the Oscar, for one example — and then praised the hiring of head honcho Roger Durling seven years ago. To much applause came Durling, his hair highlighted into a blonde-y sort of red for this evening, who asked everyone to say hi to their neighbors, like he did at last year’s opener. He introduced the fest’s founder Phyllis de Picciotto, and she came on to say a few words about how this year was very much like ’85, with a recessed economy and less tourists.
After an introduction by director Derek Magyar and a parade of stars including Hal Holbrook, Flying Lessons hit the screen. A fairly slow-moving, tear-jerking coming of age story, the film wasn’t a huge hit, but as some critics explained, there have been worse openers in years past. Most exciting was spotting the Santa Ynez Valley scenes in locations that we were all familiar with.
Down at Paseo Nuevo, the spotlights were spinning again as the “Passage to India” party got underway by 10 p.m. Featuring free food from such restaurants as Pascucci, Fresco, Marmalade Café, and Epiphany and drinks from Chopin, Stella Artois, and the newly formed Santa Barbara Wine Company — which does have Santa Barbara Winery in a tizzy over their confusing name — the evening went well past midnight. Now it’s time for the real movies to start.