“How do you do a film festival following the immense tragedy unfolding in Montecito and Southern California?” wrote Santa Barbara International Film Festival Executive Director Roger Durling in an open letter. “Well — the honest answer is that it is needed now more than ever.” Since their invention, movies have served as a way to bring people together for entertainment, reflection, distraction —things the SBIFF offers in spades. It also affords the opportunity for the community to come together and feel “less isolated as they [experience] emotions together,” as Durling noted.
To that end, the 33rd annual film festival will kick off on Wednesday, January 31, with the world-premiere screening of The Public, a film by actor/director/writer Emilio Estevez. The film charts the unintended escalation of what is essentially a nonviolent sit-in by homeless folks, who, after seeking shelter from the brutal winter storm inside a Midwestern public library, are told they must leave. A situation eventually turns into a standoff involving riot police, a crisis negotiator, and an ambitious DA. It’s a “David vs. Goliath story [that] puts the spotlight on some of our nation’s most challenging issues: homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction,” according to the film’s press release. The cast includes such stalwart actors as Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, Christian Slater, Gabrielle Union, and Jeffrey Wright. The Public screens at 8 p.m. at The Arlington Theatre.
The following day, the festival will be off and running with myriad films and events to attend, including the Cinema Vanguard Award honoree Willem Dafoe, who will be celebrated for his role in the film The Florida Project. Other film-fest awardees include Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Hong Chau (Downsizing), John Boyega (Detroit), Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), and Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name). These are just some of the offerings slated for the 11-day event.
“As Santa Barbara begins to recover, we welcome and encourage film lovers and visitors to gather around our strong, beautiful and resilient community,” said Durling. The festival runs Wednesday, January 31-Saturday, February 10.