If you’ve seen the poster for this year’s edition of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) — which features operations manager Sean Pratt yelling through his memorable megaphone — then you’re already tipped off to what will be the talk of the town following tonight’s opening program at the Arlington Theatre.

When local legend and musical genius Parry Gripp tried to attend a friend’s screening of a short film at the fest two years ago, he had a frustrating experience outside the sold-out venue. Being the song-of-the-week kind of guy he is, Gripp did what he does best and wrote “Megaphone,” a hilarious pop song featuring Pratt and his megaphone in what most would agree is a none-too-sympathetic light. Gripp posted “Megaphone” to his YouTube account and sometime later, to his surprise and delight, a British filmmaker named Harry Bossert — whose YouTube specialty is “brickfilm,” a stop-motion animation technique using LEGO — made a brilliant new version of it.

Roger Durling
Paul Wellman

Gripp was a bit nervous about showing the clip to festival director Roger Durling. “I knew that Roger was a nice guy, but I didn’t know how he would take it, as it is critical of the festival, even though it’s all in fun,” said Gripp, who was clearly not prepared for the next turn of events. Durling saw Bossert’s short film and loved it, selecting it as the trailer for the entire festival. Megaphone will be shown immediately before every screening, and it is sure to win many admirers and great word of mouth both for Gripp, who wrote the hilarious and very S.B.-centric lyrics (Buellton references, anyone?) and for Bossert, who, it is rumored, may actually hop the pond and attend the fest to reap the rewards of his LEGO labors.

Megaphone is just one of the ways that festival head Roger Durling has spiced up the program for the Film Fest’s 26th year, which he has dubbed one of “dreaming bigger dreams.” Durling’s eighth anniversary at the helm reveals the maturing of his vision and the fulfillment of the festival’s potential as a key event in both the international film calendar and the artistic life of Santa Barbara. The tributes are packed with Oscar frontrunners, the opening, closing, and centerpiece films all look strong, and there are 30 world and 33 U.S. premieres to screen.

The tributes begin in a four-day burst of bigger dreams with Annette Bening on Friday, January 28, James Franco on Saturday, Inception director Christopher Nolan on Sunday, and Geoffrey Rush on Monday, all at the Arlington. With Leo DiCaprio confirmed to present the Modern Master Award on Sunday to Christopher Nolan, and Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper on hand for Geoffrey Rush’s Montecito Award ceremony, you can count on other big stars to follow suit and make unannounced visits to the other events. But there’s only one sure way to find out — be there.

Second-weekend festivities, which will be covered in more detail in next week’s issue, include a tribute to Nicole Kidman and the always exciting Virtuosos awards on Friday, February 4, at the Lobero Theatre.

The entire Festival has a presenting sponsor this year, and it’s a local company, Lynda.com, the software training site based in Carpinteria. Lee Unkrich, director of Toy Story 3, will be presenting his work and answering questions for 4,000 Santa Barbara schoolchildren as part of the festival’s “Field Trip to the Movies” program. Look for loads more coverage and exclusives throughout SBIFF 2011 at independent.com/sbiff.

• Geoffrey Rush to Receive Montecito Award

• Santa Barbara on Screen: A Roundup of SBIFF 2011’s Santa Barbara Filmmakers

• 41 Films to See: The Independent‘s Cheat Sheet to SBIFF 2011

• Tracking 10-10-10: Coverage of SBIFF’s annual 10-10-10 competition


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