An Inside Look at the 31st Annual Santa Barbara Film Fest

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Rachel McAdams attends the American Riviera Award at the Arlington Theater at the 31st Santa Barabara International Film Festival on February 5,
Rachel McAdams attends the American Riviera Award at the Arlington Theater at the 31st Santa Barabara International Film Festival on Feb. 5

Photo Credit: Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF

It was a busy weekend on the central coast at the star-studded 31st annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. 

On Feb. 4, Johnny Depp was honored by Dom Pérignon, the official Champagne of the SBIFF, as the recipient of the Maltin Modern Master Award. Depp was presented with a personalized magnum of Dom Pérignon, inside the Dom Pérignon Lounge by film critic Leonard Maltin. 

At the dramatic and beautiful setting of the historic Arlington Theater, SBIFF Tributes are a star studded experience, where crowds of fans line the streets to catch a glimpse of the honoree’s walk down the red carpet. Over 2,000 guests fill the theater and are treated to an hour and a half of intimate conversation about the honorees career, complete with clips and montages from their body of work. 

Excitement and anticipation abounded Friday evening as Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams stormed the red carpet at the Arlington Theater on Feb. 5. Rachel’s stunning Jonathan Simkhai gown dazzled the crowd as she got out of the car to sign autographs for screaming fans.

Roger Durling, Executive Director of SBIFF and moderator for the evening, greeted the audience with opening remarks about the importance of film and its power to unite communities across the globe. He then played a clip from Mark Ruffalo, the third tribute who regrettably could not attend this evening, and welcomed Rachel and Michael on stage to a thunderous applause.

Alicia Vikander attends the Virtuosos Award at the Arlington Theater at the 31th Santa Barbara International Film Festival on February 6
Alicia Vikander attends the Virtuosos Award at the Arlington Theater at the 31th Santa Barbara International Film Festival on February 6

Photo Credit: Matthew Simmons/Getty Images for Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Roger began with a discussion about SPOTLIGHT, highlighting what drew them to the story and the experience of working with director Tom McCarthy. Rachel spoke specifically about the real-life character she portrays, reporter Sacha Pfeiffer, who sat in the audience this evening.

Roger took Rachel, Michael, and the audience on a trip down memory lane with a series of clips from films at various points in their careers including MEAN GIRLS and THE PAPER. Rachel recounted her role in THE HOT CHICK and how it was “probably the scariest job she’s ever had because she had to become Rob Schneider” and Michael commented on his Boston accent in SPOTLIGHT, and why he “prayed that he would never have to do one”. Michael and Rachel shared stories about their favorite filmmakers, and Roger and Rachel bonded over their shared intimidation when meeting Michael for the first time. 

The crowd cheered as Tom McCarthy took the stage to present the tributes with their award. Tom shared a few words about Mark’s incredible determination as a performer, Rachel’s power as a listener and as the heart of SPOTLIGHT, and Michael’s remarkable energy and tenacity that he brings to each role. Rachel, Michael, Tom and their guests made their way to the festival’s Hennessey Lounge afterwards to celebrate the evening.

The SBIFF feted its Virtuosos at the historical Arlington Theater.  Elizabeth Banks, Paul Dano, O’Shea Jackson, Jr, Gйza Rцhrig, Jacob Tremblay and Alicia Vikander took to the stage for discussions with moderator Dave Karger and to be presented with their awards by Leonard Maltin on Feb. 6. 

With honoree ages ranging from nine to 48, the evening began with Elizabeth Banks, who told the audience that the LOVE AND MERCY script was one of only two scripts she has ever fallen in love with (the other was ZAC AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO) and the success of the first film as a director, PITCH PERFECT 2.  Paul Dano followed and talked about the three months of preparing he did with the music of The Beach Boys for LOVE AND MERCY.

Johnny Depp visits the Dom Perignon Lounge before receiving the Maltin Modern Master Award at The Santa Barbara International Film Festival on February 4
Johnny Depp visits the Dom Perignon Lounge before receiving the Maltin Modern Master Award at The Santa Barbara International Film Festival on February 4

Photo Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Dom Perignon

After Joel Edgerton’s taped conversation played, O’Shea Jackson, Jr explained that it was his father’s idea that Jackson, Jr play him in STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, not the other way around!  He discussed studying screenwriting at USC and how he needed to grow confidence to become an actor.  As the audience applauded at the end of his conversation, he exclaimed, ‘I feel like The Rock!’

Gйza Rцhrig spoke to Karger about how he had already been a musician, poet, and teacher, and joked that yes, he did expect to one day be sitting on a stage in Santa Barbara accepting an award for acting.  Before SON OF SAUL, Gйza had only acted once before, 25 years ago in a Hungarian mini-series.  Next up, Jacob Tremblay charmed the crowd while describing the emotionally stressful ROOM.  ‘If you’re an adult or a mom you understand what’s happening, but if you’re a kid you’re like, ‘oh whatever’,’ he said about his viewing experience. 

Last to the stage, but certainly not least, Alicia Vikander spoke about how her background in dance has helped her as an actress.  She mentioned in particular that it helped her with the physicality of her character in EX-MACHINA.  She also discussed the challenges of playing such a range of emotions in THE DANISH GIRL.

The fourth day of the festival began with a breakfast where filmmakers around the world bonded over bagels and coffee in the Lobero CourtyardThe Lobero also played host to the esteemed writer’s and producer’s panels.  LA Times’ Glenn Whipp moderated a panel of producers from some of this year’s most buzzed about movies, Finola Dwyer (BROOKLYN), Ed Guiney (ROOM), Jeremy Kleiner (THE BIG SHORT), Steve Golin (SPOTLIGHT) and Mary Parent (THE REVENANT). The panel discussed what makes a good producer, “making it work” even under difficult circumstances, and diversity in filmmaking. On the latter, Mary Parent said “as a woman, I’m thrilled the conversation is happening”.

Festival goers were then treated to the “It Starts With the Script” Writers Panel.  IndieWIRE’s Anne Thompson led a conversation with some some of the year’s  top screenwriters including Pete Docter (INSIDE OUT), Emma Donoghue (ROOM), Alex Garland (EX MACHINA), Drew Goddard (THE MARTIAN), Jonathan Herman (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON), Charlie Kaufman (ANAMOLISA), Phyllis Nagy (CAROL), Charles Randolph (THE BIG SHORT), and Josh Singer (SPOTLIGHT).  Audiences were captivated by the group’s discussion of  the process of giving life to a film, the challenges that arise on the journey to the big screen, and what it takes to succeed. 

Throughout the day as well, SBIFF volunteers handed out free popcorn and soda to families and festival goers as they stormed the Arlington Theater to catch two of this past year’s biggest animated hits, INSIDE OUT and MINIONS, at the community AppleBox screenings.

 

 

 

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