It has often been said that effective storytelling, at its essence, is the elemental act of summoning empathy — an unyielding quest to suspend the receiver in ambiguous emotion rather than asserting what it is they should feel. For 11 days in winter, more than 200 filmmakers from over 50 countries sweep into Santa Barbara to partake in that time-honored tradition, filling four of our city’s art houses with celluloid narratives of resilience and despair, heroism and stark mortality. Time and again, audiences of varying ages and all walks of life sink into narrow theater seats and, for their part, surrender to their roles as subjective witnesses, sitting shoulder to shoulder in arresting solidarity to pay homage to the human condition. Talk about a historic responsibility, dear moviegoer.
True to its mission, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival strives to make the most of these synergetic encounters between audience and storyteller by offering up a selection of in-depth conversations, educational seminars, and social events that demystify the inner workings of the creative process and encourage dialogue long after the credits have rolled. Ranging in price from free to beyond, these intimate exchanges of ideas and sentiments serve to bridge the gap between artist and witness and add an invaluable layer of perspective to the cinematic conversation. Read on for a list of events worth seeking out as you navigate the final days of the film festival.
This year, the festival plays host to no fewer than seven (free!) filmmaker-packed discussions, moderated by program director Michael Albright and in a range of wildly diverse topics both technical and philosophical. Stroll into the Festival Pavilion behind the Lobero Theatre at 11 a.m., and you might encounter a lively conversation about shoestring budgets in documentary filmmaking or the fundamental role culture plays in visual storytelling. During last Friday’s Women in Film seminar, six female filmmakers candidly shared the obstacles they endured on the road to achievement and the ingenious hacks that allowed their projects to see the light of day. “I’ve been making films since before women were in style,” laughed Patricia Rozema, director of Mouthpiece, “and my goal is to make sure we continue to stay in style.” On the final day of the festival, Saturday, February 9, the Santa Barbara Filmmakers seminar will host a panel of homegrown talent in a not-to-be-missed discussion about Santa Barbara as muse and inspiration to their celluloid dreams. See independent.com/seminars.
Walk up and down State Street this week, and you’re bound to catch snippets of indeterminate dialogue, as filmmakers from Norway to Afghanistan descend on the city for the opportunity to discuss their films with a fresh audience. “It’s the most inspiring part of the festival,” said one audience member at the free screening of Tom Donahue’s This Changes Everything. “You get the behind-the-scenes scoop directly from the director’s mouth.” Included with the price of admission, this year over 60 filmmakers signed on for post-screening Q&As, often bringing along their actors and crew to add to the conversation. During the screening of Inside Lehman Brothers, director Jennifer Deschamps invited three of the documentary’s whistleblowers to come up and share emotional accounts of the events leading up to the company’s demise, underscoring the enriching perspective these platforms provide.
Filmmaker Happy Hours
Moviegoers who invested in a Platinum Pass have the added bonus of rubbing shoulders with this year’s crop of cinematic talent during the festival’s daily happy hours. Hosted by a rotating selection of culinary partners in the Festival Pavilion, warm lighting and overstuffed chairs invite guests to mingle with directors and industry professionals over drinks and light bites. On a particularly festive afternoon, I found myself discussing Nordic filmmaking and European soccer mania with director Arto Halonen and cinematographer Pini Hellstedt of the Finnish film Murderous Trance. Over plates of beet hummus and seeded flatbread, they shared tales of long and crippling Scandinavian winters, and I watched in amusement as guests swirled around us clinking glasses and offering introductions in a confetti of languages. This is what an international film festival is all about.