Midway Through 37th Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Tributes to Oscar Nominees Continue in Santa Barbara

On Sunday night, Will Smith said that 'King Richard' struck such a profound chord with critics and audiences because “there’s a magic to what works with a movie.” | Credit: Erick Madrid

The 37th Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) rolled into town on Wednesday, March 2. It continues through Saturday, March 12. Thus far, the general response has been a mixture of reunion bliss and mild culture shock. The annual event, a high point on Santa Barbara’s cultural calendar for decades, last convened in person 25 months ago, shortly before the pandemic lockdown began. In 2021, the festival presented a mostly streamed program, with some content seen on temporary drive-in screens by the beach.

The 37th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival opened Wednesday, March 2, with a return to the Arlington Theatre for an in-person screening of the Opening Night Film, “The Phantom of the Open.” | Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF

Now the familiar SBIFF is back. It kicked off with a crowd-pleasing opening night film, Phantom of the Open, which drew a large crowd of masked humans to the Arlington Theatre. SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling, currently celebrating 20 years at the helm, started a festival-long mantra of appreciation for seeing live audiences again and expressed due concern for the Ukraine crisis. SBIFF has linked to the Santa Barbara–based Direct Relief on its website, raising more than $50,000 to date for Ukrainian relief efforts.

Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis | Credit: Erick Madrid

The Arlington also played host to a starry gathering of mostly Oscar-nominated celebrities over the next four nights, including tributes dedicated to Kristen Stewart, co-stars Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis, a round of emerging and supporting actors, and a night toasting high-profile directors. On Thursday, March 10, Leonard Maltin will help give Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem the Maltin Modern Master Awards. Bardem also plays the comic lead in the satirical Spanish gem The Good Boss, a light-hearted festival highlight. Penélope Cruz, Bardem’s wife, received the Montecito Award on Tuesday, March 8, for her performance in Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers.

Meanwhile, in the all-important screening trenches at the Metro and Fiesta multiplexes, an unusually dense 200+ program of mostly serious and artistic films unreeled, designed by new head programmer Claudia Puig (USA Today critic) and her colleagues.

Kristen Stewart during her acceptance speech after receiving the American Riviera Award. | Credit: Erick Madrid

Events such as free 2 p.m. screenings and panel discussions are at the Arlington this year. There’s also a new venue for panel discussions only, the Casa De la Guerra courtyard.

Sir Kenneth Branagh did double-duty over the weekend. The writer-director of his personal and nostalgic film Belfast appeared at both the directors’ tribute alongside Paul Thomas Anderson and the popular Writers Panel. When he spoke about deciding to embark on this script during the COVID lockdown, he spoke for many who faced introspection during that time. “All bets were off,” he said. “It was hard to know how to navigate the future, so it was a good time to revisit the past.”

Paul Thomas Anderson (L) and Kenneth Branagh | Credit: Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF

On Sunday night, Will Smith said that King Richard struck such a profound chord with critics and audiences because “there’s a magic to what works with a movie.” He added, “Lighting strikes. Nobody can control lightning.”

At mid-point in the 11-day festival, my best of list includes: The Good Boss, 107 Mothers, La hija, One Road to Quartzsite, The Righteous, Ricochet, Wild Roots, Cadejo blanco, You Resemble Me, and Our Words Collide.

See sbiff.org and follow our daily SBIFF coverage at independent.com/sbiff. Don’t forget to catch our cover package on the festival here.

Illustration by Ben Ciccati

Support the Santa Barbara Independent through a long-term or a single contribution.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.