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SBIFF 2019 Outstanding Directors

Behind the Scenes with the Five Honorees

Outstanding Directors Awards at the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Julia Keane

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival honored the accomplishments of this year’s five contenders for the Best Director Oscar — Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Adam McKay (Vice), and Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War). Each director was met with a standing ovation as they crossed the stage following a clip from their award-nominated films.

Hollywood Reporter columnist, Scott Feinberg moderated the evening, earning compliments from the likes of Adam McKay for “doing his research.”

A recurring name this awards season Alfonso Cuarón, director of Roma. Roma’s stylistic passion is a product of Cuarón’s perfectionism behind the lens, he said during his time in the hot seat. He let out a sigh when Feinberg mentioned that this was the longest shoot of his whole career. “I was devoted to time,” Cuarón said, “shooting in chronological order, recreating my childhood home and the area around it, and having the actor’s wear clothing and look as much like the original people.” Cuarón’s diligence and devotion clearly attributed to Roma’s Academy Award front runner status.

Yorgos Lanthimos nominated for the female-led The Favourite, likened his film’s quirkiness to his “natural quality.” “I observe people in extreme situations and understand in our own terms that life is an exploration,” he stated. His unusual directorial techniques, such as making actors recount lines while “panting as if they were giving birth,” according to Emma Stone, and implementation of daring cinematography, such as using a fish-eye lens in certain scenes, help create a unique cinematic result that allowed audience’s to engage fully with the complexities of the story.

Legendary director Spike Lee received a resounding round of applause when he took the stage; BlacKkKlansman is his first Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Lee was praised for his ability to seamlessly integrate humor into a profound narrative that parallels the racism in contemporary United States. “Black man infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan,” were the six words uttered by Jordan Peele that sold Lee on the BlacKkKlansman narrative. Lee said that his intention was not to create a comedy, but “the absurdity of the situation” is what elicits laughter. Often, Lee gets pigeonholed in creating films that speak on behalf of African Americans. “As a black man living in this country, felt that I needed to tell that particular story [BlacKkKlansman],” he stated.

Adam McKay’s comedic sensibilities infused the evening with moments of light-hearted laughter. He said his politically and socially minded Vice and The Big Short are the visceral films that balance out his Will Ferrell collaborations such as Step Brothers and Anchorman. McKay shared a story that occurred during the production of Vice that he found particularly amusing. He was exercising when he realized he was having a heart attack — actor Christian Bale, who plays Cheney, had thoroughly researched the symptoms of a heart attack since his character had three throughout the course of the film so McKay recognized immediately what he was experiencing. While at the hospital being treated, McKay, high on the pain pills they gave him as they attempted to remove the blockage, he felt that “the doctors and nurses needed to know how ironic this is that I’m doing a movie on Dick Cheney and here I am having a heart attack.” He tells the medical staff about it and from the corner of the room hears, “Cheney, great American.” The audience erupted in the clutching-stomach laugher.

Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is roughly based on the sprawling love between his parent’s after World War II. Feinberg asked Pawlikowski if making the black-and-white film was cathartic. “It was cathartic to survive the film,” said Pawlikowski’s sarcastically, which elicited chuckles from the audience. He recounted that if his parents were alive they would have been very proud of the film.

When all five directors were called to the stage for the last few questions, there were no signs of competitive animosity brewing, just admiration. Feinberg allotted extra time for the directors to go on a little longer about how much they valued the creativity of the directors’ sitting next to them. When asked what other 2018 films struck a chord with them, Alfonso Cuarón summed up delightfulness of the night saying, “I liked Incredibles 2.”

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