The 37th Santa Barbara International Film Festival

SBIFF Hosts More Films and Oscar Nominees Than Ever Before

The 37th Santa Barbara International Film Festival

SBIFF Hosts More Films and Oscar Nominees Than Ever Before

By Charles Donelan & Josef Woodard | March 3, 2022

Illustration by Ben Ciccati

Our city’s largest cultural event, the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), opens on Wednesday, March 2, with a slate of films drawn from a larger pool of submissions than ever before. According to SBIFF’s new director of programming, Claudia Puig, the festival received approximately 5,000 applications from filmmakers in 54 countries. The result of this unprecedented demand for inclusion is a schedule that’s packed with excitement and a series of screenings that stretches from 8 in the morning until late in the evening every day between March 2 and closing night on March 12.

Known worldwide as a critical stop on the road to the Oscars, this year’s SBIFF fulfills that role to an extraordinary extent. At least 12 Academy Award nominees will appear this year, and every recipient of the festival’s celebrity tribute awards is coming to town with a nomination. 

That list is genuinely incredible. Of the five men up for Best Actor in a Leading Role, three — Will Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Javier Bardem — are receiving SBIFF awards. Of the five women nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, another three — Nicole Kidman, Kristen Stewart, and Penélope Cruz — will also be honored. 

Two of the women nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Aunjanue Ellis and Ariana DeBose, will be here. Three directors up for the Best Directing Oscar will participate in the directors’ panel — Kenneth Branagh, Jane Campion, and Steven Spielberg. And let’s not forget about the Variety Artisans panel, which honors the achievements of designers, cinematographers, and even songwriters like Lin-Manuel Miranda, who will be here thanks to his work on Encanto, which has a nomination in the Best Song category.

In addition to all this star power, the festival engages cinema in ways that go far beyond Hollywood. Programming director Puig cites films from 54 countries as an indicator of how truly international the SBIFF has become. She sees the festival as a way for people to enjoy rare experiences, “to see what it’s like to climb Mount Everest with someone from Nepal or surf in Bangladesh as the first woman to surf there.” Not only will we have a chance to travel the world through these international lenses, but we will also have the opportunity to meet the people who made the films. Puig reports an unprecedented level of interest on the part of filmmakers to attend the festival, something perhaps attributable to the fact that the SBIFF is one of the only big film festivals this year to deliver an in-person experience. The Palm Springs Film Festival and the Sundance Festival moved online due to the Omicron variant.

One enhanced aspect of this festival that’s bound to be popular with everyone is the inclusion of many more free screenings and seminars. Seven SBIFF Filmmaker Seminars will take place outdoors at the Casa de la Guerra March 3-11 at 11 a.m., and they are all free and open to the public. Topics include Diversity, The Future of Theaters (in this Age of Streaming), and Documentary Activism. Over at the Arlington, the public will have the option of seeing nine of the year’s most talked-about movies for free, and, for The Power of the Dog, Licorice Pizza, and King Richard, participating in Q&A sessions with the directors following the screenings. Having enjoyed several of these events during previous festivals, I can assure you that there’s nothing like seeing an Oscar-nominated film in a theater with the director present in the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards.

Please check in with us on for daily briefings from longtime attendee and experienced film critic Josef Woodard throughout the festival. 

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