Santa Barbara Film Fest Aims to Educate Budding Filmmakers, Aided by Honorees Cate Blanchett, Angela Bassett and More

The Santa Barbara Intl. Film Festival celebrates movies and the people who make them. 

One essential element of SBIFF is its focus on film education. With a carefully curated program, executive director Roger Durling says, “We’re educating your average filmgoer that comes to the festival.” Every event — from panels to tributes — is designed to teach, he says. This includes awards celebrating renowned stars including Angela Bassett, Brendan Fraser and Cate Blanchett. 

“The format is a 90-minute conversation,” he says. “It’s not an awards evening where the person shows up and gets the award. Cate Blanchett will be on stage talking about her craft and career.” 

Beyond staples such as films and panels, the program includes a variety of educational opportunities for cinephiles of all ages. For Durling, one of the most exciting parts of SBIFF is the Film Studies Program in which 30 undergraduate students from around the country are flown in for a whirlwind week of activities. The structured schedule allows students to attend screenings and panels, while also receiving classroom instruction from notable filmmakers. The chosen 30 students are flown in from their respective universities and provided with accommodations and full access to the festival.   

While this year’s teachers have not been announced, past guests have included Damien Chazelle and Glenn Close.  

“Last year Kenneth Branagh met with them and did a masterclass on directing,” Durling recalls. “It’s just 30 students and the talent.” The small class size and proximity to guests allows students to immerse themselves in an unlikely learning experience.  

It is an incredible opportunity, particularly for students who might not otherwise have the means to attend such an event. Undergrads across the United States are invited to apply for the Film Studies Program.   

Durling says, “We prioritize students from areas or colleges that don’t have access to in-person movies, or they don’t have a film studies program in their schools or haven’t been to a film festival before.”   

College students are not the only ones who benefit from SBIFF’s educational programs. Another highlight is the Field Trip to the Movies in which elementary students at Title I (low-income) schools from Santa Barbara to Santa Maria are invited to a screening of an animated feature film. This year, fourth- to sixth-graders will get to watch “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” followed by a Q&A with the director himself.  

The 10-10-10 program is a five-month mentorship initiative that supports 10 high school and 10 college students. Over the course of five months, these students have the opportunity to work with screenwriters, directors, producers and artisans in learning every facet of the filmmaking process. By the end of the mentorship, participants will have created 10 films which are presented at a public screening during the festival.  

For Durling, who is also a film and media studies instructor, SBIFF’s educational programs are a source of pride. “Almost every grade level and age group is engaged in some way during the festival with an educational program.”  

The 38th annual festival, running from Feb. 8-18, opens with the world premiere of “Miranda’s Victim” from Michelle Danner. Abigail Breslin stars in this true story about the 1963 kidnapping and rape of Trish Weir by Ernesto Miranda that led to changes in the criminal justice system, including the mandatory reading of Miranda Rights when suspects are arrested. The film also stars Ryan Phillippe, Luke Wilson, Donald Sutherland, Mireille Enos and Andy Garcia.  

The closing night film on Feb. 18 will be the U.S. premiere of Chandler Levack’s “I Like Movies.” Isaiah Lehtinen stars as a 17-year-old video store employee who forms a complicated relationship with his manager. Also starring Romina D’Ugo and Krista Bridges, the film first screened at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival in 2022 and won Levack the RBC Emerging Canadian Artist Award at the Calgary Intl. Film Festival. 

Each year’s honorees often align with top awards contenders, even though they are selected well before the awards season begins. In addition to Bassett, Fraser and Blanchett, this year’s festivities will celebrate Jamie Lee Curtis, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. The Virtuosos Award spotlights actors who particularly stood out in 2022, and this year’s panel will honor 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”).  

Throughout the year, organizers put together Silver Screenings for seniors, internships, filmmaker conversations and other events at the historic Riviera Theatre, a nearly 100-year-old venue dedicated to bringing international and independent cinema to the local community.  

SBIFF is the culminating event in a year-round program. At theaters across the city, the festival will host more than 100 feature and short films, including 30 world premieres and 53 U.S. bows. Of all the films screening, approximately 60% are directed by women and people of color, according Durling. 

The slate includes a large selection of international features representing 43 countries including Japan, France, Ireland, Iran, Croatia and more. There will also be dozens of domestic and international short films, many of which will celebrate their premieres in Santa Barbara.  

In December, Michelle Yeoh received the Kirk Douglas Award at an annual black-tie benefit to raise funds for year-round educational activities.  

Over the weekend of Feb. 11 and 12, Los Angeles-based journalists will host panels with writers, producers and female filmmakers. Each weekday morning, SBIFF will host filmmaker seminars. The seminars are free and open to the public, covering many different topics and themes related to the sections and festival slate. 

On Feb. 13, Jazz Tangcay, Variety’s senior artisans editor, will host the Variety Artisans Awards. In this annual tradition, Tangcay will sit down with costume designers, production designers, editors and musicians to discuss their craft. 

One addition to the lineup this year is an international feature panel in which the directors of this year’s Academy Award-nominated international features will be invited to discuss their work. In previous years, there have been screenings of the shortlisted films, as well as Q&As, but this will be the first time they have assembled a panel dedicated
to the five nominees.  

“It’s about time,” Durling says.  

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