Film Fest Faces

After 25 years, S.B. has this film festival thing down to a fine science. We each do it our own way, but in my world, the plot’s always the same: Girl sees movies, movie stars. Girl has too many cocktails, too little sleep. Girl narrowly avoids major injury first at the hands of her five-inch heels, then by an overzealous, body-blocking publicist. (No, I won’t tell you whose.) Girl places bet on what Roger Durling will do with his hair ($20 on blue). And, in suspenseful climactic sequence, girl narrowly makes her deadline, turning in a delightful write-up of the whole affair.


Opening night, the searchlights summoned festivalgoers to the Arlington, where Flying Lessons premiered to a packed house, with much of the cast in attendance. A highlighted Durling (girl loses bet!) got the night started, in what’s becoming an SBIFF trademark, kicking up the lights and encouraging us to introduce ourselves to our neighbors. (Mingle early and often, I always say.) The flick was a little heavy — which may serve to explain how it came to be that, for a brief and terrifying time at the afterparty, the bars ran out of vodka. SBIFFers are a resourceful crew, however, and stuck around a decked-out Paseo Nuevo until the wee hours, dancing, schmoozing, boozing, and snacking. Well, some of us did. I forgot to eat, until, finally, making my way out somewhere between When Did It Get So Late and Holy Crap Tomorrow’s Gonna Suck, I saw the girls working the Chino’s booth shutting down shop. And this is how it came to pass that I wound up in a taxi with a full tray of cheese enchiladas on my lap.

Friday brought the rain, and an undisputed SBIFF highlight — not to mention fodder for the annual “Wow, Roger really is psychic, isn’t he?” musings. When the Durls first booked Sandra Bullock for this year’s festival, he took a little flack for it, but, as per always, he served those doubters their words on a platter. (O, ye of little faith — how did they taste?)

Though the program got off to a late start, it didn’t take long for the beautiful, witty Bullock to have the audience smitten. Moderator Pete Hammond was fantastic, taking us through her body of work — and neither was shy about mentioning some of her, well, less informed choices. (Speed 2, Fire on the Amazon, anyone? Actually, there’s a good story there. She had to do a love scene, and didn’t trust that the crew would keep her modesty intact … so she duct-taped all of her critical bits.)

Bullock said, until she met her, she didn’t want to play Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side, and gave us the skinny on the recent kiss she planted on Meryl Streep after the two tied for Best Actress at the Critics’ Choice Awards: “I had to kiss her — I never kissed a woman before, and she’s the best one.” She spoke about the cyclical nature of the biz and her career. It was the perfect setup for the presentation of the award by Forest Whitaker, who directed her in Hope Floats, because when Whitaker was honored at the 23rd SBIFF, it was Bullock who did the presenting. And Whitaker was so poetic and soft-spoken, anyone who wasn’t already spellbound left the event starry-eyed. The VIP afterparty went down at SBIFF Board President Jeff and Margo Barbakow’s amazing Montecito home — and yes, Sandra showed.

How to top that? Well, if you’re the 25th SBIFF, with the king of the world: James Cameron. Upon my return to the Arlington, I was whisked into the Chopin Lounge — a k a the Arlington Courtyard, on swank-roids.

Soon enough, James Cameron arrived, so we tore ourselves away from the Tarantinis, grabbed our seats, and donned our 3-d specs. Cameron, a visionary known for doing things his way, started out by taking to the podium and giving what sounded like an acceptance speech, which normally happens at the end of the tributes. No sooner had Leonard Maltin corralled him into the seat on the other side of the stage than Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived to present him with the award — which also typically happens at the end. Maltin eventually took back the wheel, and we were treated to a glimpse of the way Cameron’s mind works — and a series of mind-blowing clips.

Later, at Café Luck, site of the night’s afterparty, Cameron arrived handler-free and remained unsequestered, standing directly inside the front door and mingling for hours. While I was waiting to get my shot, his wife, Suzy Amis, was approached by a woman toting a Coca-Cola-laden tray. Amis asked for champagne for herself and Chardonnay for Cameron — and the coke pusher said no. (Apparently, she only deals in coke.) I know an emergency when I see one, so I went directly to the bar to fetch their drinks. (Girl saves the day!) Sadly, however, and in a rare twist, I didn’t have a cocktail of my own to toast with. (I overheard a woman say, “She doesn’t have one — she’s on the clock!” Clearly she and I have not met; I left my drink by the raw bar.)

Sunday evening, exhausted but excited for the Virtuosos, I ran into Roger, still giggly over the kind of day that will live on in SBIFF lore: Quentin Tarantino, in town for the morning’s Directors Panel — and an afternoon event featuring a conversation between him and Kirk Douglas — finished the first affair and asked Roger if he could recommend a good Mexican restaurant (read: margaritas). Roger directed him to El Paseo; margaritas were had. But when showtime neared for event number two, Tarantino had another request: coffee. Roger escorted him to Starbucks, and the show went on. As did the Virtuosos, despite the fact that Precious’s Gabourey Sidibe wasn’t able to make it. But between Emily Blunt, Carey Mulligan, Saoirse Ronan, and Michael Stuhlbarg, there was more than enough talent to go around. Moderator Sean Smith kept it moving, and every last one of them made an appearance at the afterparty at the Canary Hotel, which my crew, along with Michael Stuhlbarg and his girlfriend, Mai-Linh Lofgren, closed down right around midnight.

And girl made her deadline. But would she survive week two?


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