In 2017, the S.B. International Film Festival (SBIFF) is truly living up to its name. Ask SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling (pictured), who oversees the festival’s selections: Though every year boasts an excitingly and boldly diverse selection, the inclusion of international filmmakers and the tough subjects they tackle means more now than it has in a long time.
Durling is proud of the festival’s commitment to international film. With 50 different countries represented, the worldwide aspect feels especially significant in an era when America’s international ties are potentially being strained, or walled off altogether. “To paraphrase [SBIFF Montecito Award winner] Isabelle Huppert from her Golden Globes acceptance speech, there’s no border, no frontiers, no walls in art,” Durling said. “There’s a sense of community — it’s broadening our perspective of the world and of issues, and we’re doing it in a community environment.
The opening-night film, Charged, he said, is “a pretty powerful statement about the American dream and immigrants. Eduardo [Garcia] is the son of an immigrant, and he’s putting his life back together after that life-altering accident … It’s a great way to start the film festival with the story of the son of an immigrant, a true American dream story,” he said. “It’s one of the most uplifting and exciting true stories I know.”
Many of this year’s documentaries, as well, focus on some of the most pressing social justice issues of our time; there will be a documentary shorts session that deals with immigrant and refugee themes. “We are very focused on the way that, after the election, there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of issues being raised. We felt that the festival needed to address some of those issues, to help people find answers or find some sort of relief,” Durling said. “It’s our duty to address these issues that are concerning people right now.”
Of course the film festival is not just about addressing global crises but also about the entertainers from around the world who bring us together (and help distract us) in the cinema. Durling is especially thrilled about some of this year’s honorees. “I’ve wanted to honor Denzel Washington for the last 14 years,” he said.
He is perhaps most excited about Huppert. “I grew up with international cinema, and we are an international festival, so to have somebody of her caliber is perfect.” Durling is also joyed to honor English actors Naomie Harris and Dev Patel for their work in Moonlight and Lion, respectively, plus S.B. area resident Jeff Bridges for his work in Hell or High Water.
Nothing makes Durling prouder, though, than how inclusive and expansive the SBIFF’s education programs are. “The educational programs are the most rewarding thing we do. It’s the heartbeat of the festival,” he said. Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies will see 4,200 kids coming from across the county, while the festival’s Film Studies Program, for blossoming student filmmakers and film theorists, now includes 30 students from across the U.S., with 20 being flown in from out of state. “We made a big effort to have students come in from areas that don’t have access to film festivals, so it’s a dream come true,” Durling said. “It’s a great opportunity for them, and I can’t wait to meet them to see their expressions as they get to experience the film fest.”