Having lived in Santa Barbara for over ten years, I have learned that there are a couple local institutions that one just doesn’t criticize. Santa Barbarans don’t mess with Fiesta and they don’t mess with the film festival. These two events can go by all cloaked in love and good will without anyone bringing up any possible shortcomings of either event.
This is where I come in.
While I have a great deal of respect for all that Roger Durling has done to bring The Santa Barbara International Film Festival to where it is today, I think he would be better off leaving some tasks to the professionals. Conducting interviews is one of those tasks.
Saturday night my husband and I spent a rare date night at The Arlington for the Film Festival’s presentation of the Cinema Vanguard Award to Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, the two lead actors from The Artist. The event started a half an hour late with the somber news that local filmmaker Mike DeGruy had been killed in a helicopter crash.
The night didn’t really get happier. Durling, Dujardin, and Bejo sat around in a living room-like setting discussing The Artist and the actors’ careers. Sounds lovely, no? It was actually kind of uncomfortable.
Durling started out by addressing the French-speaking actors in his best French, to which the actors looked back at him with quizzical expressions and charitable smiles. Then, in his heavy accent and broken English, Durling began muddling through a series of awkward and indiscernible questions and, despite what seemed to be a prepared list in front of him, seemed to make them up on the spot. There was an excitement about him that I found endearing in its boyishness but also awkward in its lack of professionalism.
While Bejo has a solid command of the English language, Dujardin required a translator at his side. The simple line up of having a Panama native trying to interview an Argentine-French actress and a French actor in front of an English-speaking audience made for an awkward evening all around. At one point Bejo flat out said, “I don’t understand what you are asking me.”
I felt that the actors were bored and frustrated with the quantity and quality of the questions. I noticed Dujardin sinking lower and lower into his chair as the evening progressed. At one point it seemed that Dujardin was messing with Durling in response to the question of how long it took to rehearse the film’s closing number. Dujardin’s answer was “two or three days” and then, perhaps recognizing Durling’s gullibility, confessed that it was “five or six months.” Still, it didn’t stop Dujardin from messing with Durling again, in answer to how many takes it took to get the scene. Dujardin answered “one” then later confessed “seventeen.” Lastly, when asked how it was working with Uggie the dog, Dujardin replied, “It’s a dog.”
Bejo was more forgiving, even after Durling repeatedly referred to her character as “Poppy” instead of “Peppy.” She didn’t correct him but, rather, when Durling eventually realized his mistake and apologized, she graciously brushed it off.
The highlight and most organized part of Saturday night’s presentation was the many film clips that Durling showed, from movies that the actors had done both together, including The Artist, and separately. The clip of them rehearsing the closing scene of The Artist was especially fun.
After two full hours, the discussion seemed to suddenly peter out, at which point Durling looked over his left shoulder towards the curtain and announced, “Someone is supposed to be coming out.” An awkward minute or so later, Malcolm McDowell, who played the part of the butler in The Artist, rustled out from behind the curtain saying something like, “I guess I’ll have to introduce myself.” Huge faux paus that Durling neglected to introduce McDowell.
Then things got more bumbly as the film’s director, Michel Hazanavicius, was called up on stage to present, alongside McDowell, the Cinema Vanguard Awards to Dujardin and Bejo. You would think that a Film Festival Award would be presented by Film Festival personnel rather than by the film’s director and another actor from the film.
When I criticize someone’s performance I always check myself by admitting that I couldn’t have done it any better. This is true of Durling’s interview with Dujardin and Bejo last Saturday night. I would have been a mess up there. But, I also know my strengths and wouldn’t have put myself in that position to begin with. At the risk of stepping on the sacred toes of the Film Festival, I would encourage Roger Durling to reconsider his strengths and perhaps, next time, leave the interviewing to the professionals.