Feasting at the Film Fest

Barney Shares His Highlights of SBIFF 2010

OUR OWN FILM CAMP: “I like a town where a film festival takes over,” writer-director Quentin Tarantino was shouting to a Lobero Theater audience, waving his arms. “Like this shit matters!” he yelled, getting louder and louder after a great Q&A session with Kirk Douglas. “I love the environment. It’s like film camp. It’s cool. I love it!”

Tarantino was talking about movie festivals in general but also about the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which flicked off its cameras Sunday night after a 10-day run. Some of the movies were great and others wacky, including many of the behind-the-scenes stories that came out.

“When Hitler walked onto the set, it was a bizarre moment,” recalled Lawrence Bender, the Oscar-nominated producer of Inglourious Basterds, during Saturday’s producers’ panel. “Quentin says, ‘Hello, my Führer.’ (Tarantino, he explained, addressed everyone by his character’s name in the movie rather than the person’s real name. Martin Wuttke was playing Hitler.)

“Everything stopped. I felt sorry for Hitler at lunch” because he was sitting alone with no one talking to him, Bender said. The audience had a big laugh. Describing himself as “a nice Jewish boy” who’d probably lost relatives in the Holocaust, Bender said, he went over to sit with him, and the “weirdest small talk” ensued. Tarantino is Oscar-nominated for writing and directing Basterds, a project he spent a decade working on.

“I almost got fired” from Up in the Air, confessed Vera Farmiga. She had just given birth. “I muscled my way in” and told the people in power, “I need this job,” due to the mortgage and other mundane matters of life, including that baby. It worked. She got the plum role of George Clooney’s romantic interest and a best supporting actress Oscar nomination.

How was it working with Clooney, film festival executive director Roger Durling asked her? “He was yummy, tender, and funny. We clicked right away.”

Best actress Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe told how she cut class on a whim to audition for the lead role in Precious, playing an illiterate high school girl, a victim of incest and abuse. Sidibe, who had never acted but read the book a few years earlier on her mother’s advice, won the part two days after that audition.

Brit Colin Firth told the Arlington audience Saturday night that he was advised not to take the role in A Single Man of a grief-stricken gay man. Bad for his career, they said. But he ignored the advice. In that case, Firth’s “blind instinct for making the wrong choices” failed, he joked, and he’s been nominated for a best-actor Oscar. In one clip, the camera was fixed on Firth’s face as he went through pain while receiving a phone call telling him that his partner had been killed in a crash. To add to the difficulty of showing the emotion, “I had to start that scene in a feeling of euphoria” because Firth had just learned of Barack Obama’s presidential victory.

He was also warned against playing the Mr. Darcy role in Pride and Prejudice, a 1995 costume part that has generated lasting ridicule. “It won’t go away,” said Firth. “I’ll take him to the grave.”

When he read the script for Shakespeare in Love, “I thought it was going to be a disaster.” It only won a best-picture Oscar. Firth, speaking in a diffident Brit manner, told how during his first visit to Santa Barbara five or six years ago his father was at the wheel and got cited for an illegal right turn. Accepting the film festival’s Outstanding Performance of the Year Award, he quipped, “This is a significant leap for my family.”

Santa Barbara homeboy Jeff Bridges, still sporting the long hair and beard he had in Crazy Heart, shown to a Lobero audience Sunday afternoon, said he declined the role at first. Reason: “It was missing an essential ingredient: music. So I passed.”

A year later he and a group of musicians got together, jammed, and composed original songs he sang while portraying the alcoholic country singer. It’s won him a best-actor Oscar nomination and a best-supporting actress nomination for his love interest in the movie, Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Bridges might never have had a film career if his father, Lloyd (Sea Hunt) Bridges, hadn’t insisted on getting him roles. “I resisted him.” His father loved movie business and “approached the work with such joy.” At the end of the Q&A session, Mayor Helene Schneider presented Bridges with the city’s letter of recognition as “our own local dude.”

Mark Boal, Oscar-nominated writer and producer of The Hurt Locker, wasn’t able to find trailers for his crew, so he convinced them that living in a large tent in Jordan’s blistering summer heat helped get them in the mood for their roles. On the first day of shooting, half the crew was “hours away from heatstroke.” They survived and the film is nominated for best picture.

Santa Barbaran Ivan Reitman told the producers’ panel that when son Jason co-wrote the screenplay for Up in the Air, “I knew I couldn’t be his father. I had to be the producer. My job was just to be someone he could trust and who he could bounce things off.” Ivan is nominated for producing the movie, Jason for co-writing it and directing, Clooney for best actor and the film itself for best picture.

Perhaps the most talked-about film during the 10 days was Chloe, featuring Julianne Moore, winner of the festival’s Montecito Award. In what some might call a psycho-sexual thriller, Moore plays a woman who suspects that her husband is cheating on her. To find out more about his behavior, she hires a hooker to flirt and test his reaction. This was a mistake. You can talk about this movie for days with your mate, and I have. Moore co-stars in A Single Man.

In her award ceremony at the Arlington, Moore giggled after a number of clips of her films, “They’re showing movies I don’t remember doing.” She said she generally sees her movies only twice, just after they come out. “That’s kind of it.” How does she choose from the many scripts she gets? “When it grabs you. You can tell pretty quickly.”

As for how much outside revenue the film festival generates, I got a hint while taking my wife Sue for a Valentine’s Day luncheon at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. “Santa Barbara hotels are jammed,” a valet told me. “We’re getting the overflow.”

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or (805) 965-5205, Ext. 230. He writes online columns and a print column on Thursdays.


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