There are many reasons to attend the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Jan. 28–Feb. 6, but one of the best is that Artistic Director Roger Durling says the informal focus this year is actors and acting. Not only will the festival have its share of world premiere films and celebrity events but it will also have filmmaking panels from experts in various fields, firsthand information from those who know whereof they speak.
"This is our 20th anniversary," says Durling. "It started off as a small festival. A small group of people—about six of them—started the festival. It was a weekend festival, originally, and mostly community people. We've grown to a 10-day event. The scope of it has gotten a lot more ambitious as the years have progressed. We do a lot of independent and special international films, but our panels are what have made us different from other film festivals. Frank Pierson, the head of the Academy, does the writers panel, and normally we have most of the WGA nominees [for that year]. Peter Bart is the moderator of the producers panel, and we have the PGA nominees there. Similarly we have the DGA nominees at the directors panel, which is moderated by Peter Guber. The panels are what we are known for. They're pretty well-attended and pretty prestigious. This year we're introducing a composers panel, and all of the major composers are part of that. Our tributes have become higher in profile as the years go by. Last year we had Charlize Theron and Peter Jackson. This year we've made a bigger emphasis on saluting actors, and we have Leonardo DiCaprio, Kevin Bacon, Kate Winslet, and Annette Bening. We're doing a smaller series of conversations with independent film actors, like Laura Dern, Javier Bardem, and Paul Giamatti.
"Opening night is the U.S. premiere of Woody Allen's new film, Melinda and Melinda, which stars Radha Mitchell and Will Ferrell," continues Durling. "The closing night is the world premiere of Jeff Bridges' new film, called The Moguls, which is this Frank Capra–like hysterical comedy about a small town that decides to do an adult film. Then we have the centerpiece gala world premiere of this film called Dave Barry's Guide to Guys, based on Dave Barry's best-selling book. Barry is in it, and it's directed by Jeff Arch, who's an Academy Award–nominated writer for Sleepless in Seattle, and he wrote the script. John Cleese, who lives here in Santa Barbara, is in it and will be in attendance. We love silent films, and we're going to have a live orchestra and show Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail, which is rarely seen on the screen. We're also going to show Buster Keaton's The General. We're fanatics for silent films, and that's one of the highlights I'm looking forward to. It's my idea of heaven."
Staying true to its community roots, the festival will feature a large number of movies specifically geared to Santa Barbara interests.
"We have a big emphasis on Latino films," says Durling. "We're showing more than 20 Latin-American films; a lot of them are premieres. We tend to be a very community-based festival, so a lot of the interests of the community are mirrored in the programming. For example, this year we have a very strong nature filmmakers series. We're going to be showcasing new nature films. We're doing a tribute to Sir David Attenborough. This community loves the environment, anything that has to do with nature. Part of the community here is big on extreme sports—anything that has to do with skateboarding or surfing—and so every year we showcase a lot of extreme sports films. Dana Brown, who is a local filmmaker who last year did Step Into Liquid, we have his world premiere of his new film called Dust to Glory. We have this very fierce film-loving community locally, and then there's that other aspect of national interest, where we bring in the celebrities and panels."
When asked if he has a particular favorite film as a festival programmer, Durling has no hesitation.
"One specifically is this documentary called The Power of Nightmares," he says. "It's done by Adam Curtis from the BBC, and we have the U.S. premiere of the film. It's a very intriguing political film. He has a theory that the philosophies of Donald Rumsfeld and Osama bin Laden were both born in the 1950s United States. It's an extremely controversial and very interesting film. That's the gem, the one I'm really looking forward to see how people will react to it."
For more information go to www.sbfilmfestival.org or to buy tickets call (800) 504-8587.