Cate Blanchett attends the Outstanding Performers of the Year Award tribute | Credit: Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for SBIFF

At roughly midpoint in the 10-day Santa Barbara International Film Festival, edition number 38, it can be safely reported that SBIFF has its groove back. If the last two pandemic affected years found the festival scrambling and resourcefully rethinking itself, the old machinery is back up to speed. A flurry of daily screenings, from a pool of over 200 films from 43 countries, blend in with high-powered panel discussions and the ever popular celebrity tributes — so far including the super-stellar Cate Blanchett, Angela Bassett and the comically fizzy Jamie Lee Curtis

Number 38 began auspiciously enough on February 8th’s opening night, featuring the world premiere of the quite fine and historically informative Miranda’s Victim — tracking the little known story origin story of the Miranda Rights act. The night’s festivities kicked off with radically different notions of what a film festival is about. Mayor Randy Rowse welcomed the throng and, accentuating the tourism-magnet aspect of the festival, advised visitors to patronize and sightsee in Santa Barbara, and “maybe take in a film or two.” SBIFF director Roger Durling, now in his 21st year at the helm, had a different view, promoting the culture and possibility of an obsessive cinephile “tribe,” which might take in up to six films a day.

Opening night also meant the unveiling of the annual trailer, which would precede each screening and event. This year’s model was admirably artistic and understated, featuring a narration by poster artist Patricia Chidlaw, and later sometimes heard with only ambient Santa Barbara street sounds. Apparently, the jury is out about the general public response to the trailer. I say bully for Durling’s moxie.

For those who have been swept into the festivals vortex, The mostly pleasant tsunami of sensory input can instill a reality warping blur of cinematic impressions and industry voices. and several of those voices arrived with extra American accents. especially at Sunday’s first time festival feature, the “International Directors Panel,” stocked with Oscar nominees, as was the extra-large Writers Panel on Saturday.

Still to come on the tribute front are the Thursday (February 16) night tribute to Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, Friday’s “Outstanding Directors of the Year Award” (including acclaimed Todd Field, of Tár fame), and Sunday’s closing night focus is on the US Premiere of I Like Movies. So do we.

One festival geek’s Top Ten list, at mid-point, in no particular order: Manuela, Dr. Tony Fauci, Pinto, Samichay, in Search of Happiness, Other People’s Children, Tove’s Room, 26.2 to Life, Daughters of Rage, Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer, Traces.

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