Santa Barbara Film Fest: Celebrating Cinema

Lights, camera, and action! This phrase is often used to describe the excitement and anticipation that comes with the start of a film or video production, and it perfectly captures the atmosphere of the 38th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

The Santa Barbara Film International Festival (SBIFF) is a yearly event that celebrates the art and craft of filmmaking held in the beautiful Santa Barbara, California. During the 10-day festival, the downtown streets of Santa Barbara come alive with the energy and excitement of filmmakers, actors, and film enthusiasts from around the world.

The festival showcases a diverse range of films, from independent productions to Hollywood blockbusters, and offers audiences the opportunity to engage with filmmakers and actors through screenings, panel discussions, and Q&A sessions.

This year, the event took place from February 8-18, and actors including Cate Blanchett, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Austin Butler came to the stage to share their latest work on the big screen. From the Virtuoso Award to the Variety Artisans Award, moviegoers came from across the country to watch their favorite stars and directors share about their recently released films.

Hollywood blockbusters, Oscar nominated shorts, and international films were also spotlighted at the SBIFF. Across several theaters in town, including the Arlington Theater and the Fiesta 5 Theater, people were able to watch films that premiered at the event and also got insight into the making of the film through director and screenwriter panels.

Senior Abby Kim attended The Writers Panel, where directors from “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” shared the ins and outs of writing Hollywood scripts.

Abby said, “This year’s writer panel had one of the most impressive lineup of panelists seen in the history of the SBIFF. The panel was very interesting as many of the screenwriters are also the directors of their recently released films, and they all were able to answer questions about the screenwriting process and hardest scene to write and film.”

The Santa Barbara Film Festival is a must-see event for anyone who loves film and wants to experience the excitement and glamor of a world-class film festival. With its stunning setting, diverse range of films, and star-studded events, it is truly a highlight of the film festival calendar.

Because the festival is local and accessible to Laguna students and families, several student journalists had the opportunity to attend the festival as the press and interview many of the honored actors and directors. From the Outstanding Performer of the Year Night to the Montecito Award Night, Laguna’s student journalists asked pressing questions to actors including Cate Blanchett, Angela Bassett, Austin Butler, Stephanie Hsu, Jane Lynch, Ke Huy Quang, and many others.

Sophomore Sofia Ramirez interviewed Angela Bassett, an American actress who recently played Ramonda in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

Sofia asked her, “You are drawn to resilient roles, are there any strong women in the industry you would like to highlight?”

Bassett said, “Any woman in this industry, because it can be difficult, especially if you’re African American, Latina, and Asian. It can be very difficult to find those roles that allow you to express yourself, your creativity, and your art form. But you hang in, you hold on, and you persevere.”

Bassett was awarded with the Montecito Award at the SBIFF this year.

On February 15, Santa Barbara local, Jane Lynch made an appearance at the Virtuoso Award Night to announce the eight recipients of the Virtuoso Award. Senior Alexandra Siegel asked her, “What advice do you have for aspiring actors and people in the film industry?”

Lynch said, “In high school, if you want to do plays, which I did many in high school, do them! But you need to remember not to push it. You have to learn your craft, work at it, and be committed. Ultimately, you’ve got to have fun while doing it. And always watch and listen to other young actors.”

Lynch announced Austin Butler (Elvis), Kerry Condon (The Banshees of Inisherin), Danielle Deadwyler (Till), Nina Hoss (Tár), Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All at Once), Jeremy Pope (The Inspection), Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All at Once), and Jeremy Strong (Armageddon Time) as recipients of the 2023 Virtuoso Award.

Cate Blanchett (Tár) was awarded with the highly praised Outstanding Performer of the Year Award on February 10. She played a deranged and power hungry orchestra composer, and through the role, Blanchett criticized the abuse of power and addressed the #MeToo movement simultaneously.

“The film is about the system of power. We understand what male power looks like, but we don’t fully understand Lydia Tár and what female power looks like. By entering into these very patriarchal structures, she’s apeing these things that she’s seen that aren’t sitting well with her. So I think having a woman at the center of this film allows the audience, in a nuanced way, to examine those power structures that we wouldn’t have if a man had played the role,” Blanchett said.

Along with Blanchett, director of Tár, Todd Field, made an appearance at the event.

A fan favorite, Austin Butler (Elvis), was one of eight recipients of the Virtuoso Award. Butler started his acting career at age 13, but found his first Oscar nominated role in “Elvis,” portraying famous rock and roll icon Elvis Presley.

Senior Alexandra Siegel asked him about his upcoming role in “Dune Part Two,” and how he embodied the role of his new character, Fayde.

Butler said, “It was trying to understand his mindset. When you play a character that certain people could label as villainous, it can be easy to give in to the idea of the villain. I wanted to understand that behind every one of those characters, in real life as well as in a film, they believe they are the hero of their own story. It also the intensive physical training as well. I did three months of physical training for the role.”

A mission the Santa Barbara International Film Festival praises itself on is its efforts in education. In addition to showcasing films and hosting events, the SBIFF also has a strong educational component, with programs aimed at aspiring filmmakers and film enthusiasts of all ages. The festival partners with local schools to provide opportunities for students to learn about film production and screenwriting, and it also hosts seminars and workshops for industry professionals.

One of the ways the SBIFF supports young filmmakers is through partnerships with local schools. The festival works closely with schools in the greater Santa Barbara area to provide programs and resources that introduce students to the world of film production and screenwriting.

Examples of these educational programs include the “10-10-10” Student Filmmaking and Screenwriting Competition, in which ten student filmmakers and ten student screenwriters are selected to work with mentors to create a short film in just ten days, and the “AppleBox Family Films” program, which provides free film screenings and workshops for families and young filmmakers.

In addition to education in the film industry, student journalists are able to step outside the classroom and ask actors, directors, and screenwriters in a professional red-carpet setting.
Sophomore Sofia Ramirez attended the Montecito Award Night celebrating Angela Bassett.

She said, “Attending the Santa Barbara Film Festival was the opportunity of a lifetime. The program allows young journalists, such as myself, to step outside the classroom and into the professional world of reporting.”

Not only do student journalists get to apply their reporting skills in a professional environment, but they are also exposed to the reality of the film industry.
“This event poses a great learning opportunity for students as we are thrust into the deep waters of the film industry. I personally was in awe of the patience and respect these incredible figures showed the student journalists.

Attending the festival was truly an unforgettable experience.” said Sofia.