Doug Stone, Ben Affleck, and Fiona Stone
Shannon Kelley

Now 28 years in, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) has come into its own. And, 10 years into his tenure, Executive Director Roger Durling has come into his, continuing to tap his eerie cinematic spidey-sense to wrangle exactly the people we want to see as the film year comes to its crescendo. This year, it seems even the weather gods are in cahoots: the gloomy, misty days of the SBIFF’s first weekend were tailor-made for holing up in a theater and lent a moody special effect to the searchlights that sweep our skies come festival time — although, I hasten to add, such weather is tragic for after-party hair.

Accordingly ponytailed, I made my way to the Arlington for the Opening Night premiere, where I think I did an impressive job of repressing the urge to yell “Sookie!” Disconnect isn’t a vampire flick, but it did star True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård, who was in attendance (that sound you hear is half the women — and a good chunk of the men — reading this and swooning), along with director Henry-Alex Rubin and several other cast members. The film was intense — think Kids meets 2004’s Crash meets … Facebook — but good and had people talking into the wee hours at the swanked-out Paseo Nuevo.

Friday’s Modern Master ceremony can best be described as an unmitigated love fest, beginning with Durling’s effusive intro for moderator Leonard Maltin, calling him “the Modern Master.” (Maltin then handed Durling a wad of cash.) It continued with the funny, thoughtful, eagerly self-deprecating Ben Affleck — and a montage spanning everything from Dazed and Confused to Argo — who’s emerged as a formidable talent since the Bennifer years, a development that’s as much a score for the moviegoing public as for Affleck himself. But he’s more than willing to milk the comedy of his, um, eclectic résumé. Of the montage, he said, “Good to know I can always fall back on stick fighting.” (To be fair, there was lots of it.) There were more than a couple of Pearl Harbor cracks, but, curiously and to everyone’s relief, no mention of Gigli. Matt Damon kept the love flowing in his speech presenting the award; Affleck reciprocated in his “acceptance speech,” during which, in lieu of “accepting,” he waxed poetic about what an awesome guy Damon is. (Damon cut in to stop him: “Dude, you’re the one getting the award.”)

A short walk landed me at the Arlington Tavern for the after-party, where Affleck was quickly surrounded — gamely mingling while sipping a … vodka Diet Coke. (Is that even a drink? Stars are so not just like us.)

How to top that? Oh, you know, just a couple of hours of candid convo with one of the most acclaimed/notoriously publicity-shy actors in the world. No big deal. How Durling managed to deliver Daniel Day-Lewis is anyone’s guess but was everyone’s treat. Later at Studio 28, the pop-up lounge for filmmakers and other fest insiders, the space went from zero to pumping in the space of 20 minutes but stayed that way for far (far) longer.

Yep, the fest has come into its own, and the peeps have come to play.


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