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Inside the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Pouring rain, a sloshy red carpet, dripping wet reporters frantically preparing their equipment, the rain on the opening night of the 39th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival created a tumultuous feeling in the air. 

King’s Page editors arrived at the press office without a minute to spare to retrieve their press badges before hurriedly moving to the lineup of photographers and journalists underneath the entrance to the Arlington Theater where we anxiously awaited the guests on opening night.

The Arlington Theater awaiting the arrival of Bradley Cooper (Roman Trovato)

February 7, Wednesday


Easing our town into the limelight that would be brought on by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, the festival began with a world premiere of a Disney branded documentary titled Madu. Directed by Matt Ogens and Joel Kachi Benson, Madu tells the true story of Nigerian-born Madu, whose passion and promise for ballet attracts the attention of the prestigious Elmhurst Ballet School in England. Leaving his family and home for the first time, Madu travels to Elmhurst on a full scholarship, where he receives rigorous, physical training while battling a developing blindness in his eye. The film was coordinated by a team spread out in three different continents and took four years to produce. Madu will arrive on Disney+ on March 29.


February 8, Thursday

Bradley Cooper and Carrey Mulligan side by side on the red carpet (Roman Trovato)

Introducing the first award along the festival’s lineup, the Outstanding Performer(s) of the Year Award for acting icon Bradley Cooper was hosted at Arlington. Following an earlier screening of his new film Maestro, Bradley Cooper, accompanied by fellow Maestro star Carrey Mulligan, arrived in the evening for photos, interviews, and an hour long Q&A discussing the length of his stardom, previous roles, and muses of his performances and films he directed. Cooper also discussed the process and work that was put into Maestro, his most recent project which is nominated for seven Oscars and countless other awards. To end the evening, the audience watched a scene from Maestro before erupting in applause as guest star Brad Pitt walked onto the stage to hand the Outstanding Performer(s) of the Year Award to a humble Bradley Cooper.


February 9, Friday


At 2:00 pm, the Arlington put out a free screening of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer followed by the appearance of lead actor, Cillian Murphy, who discussed what it was like to work on the film during a short Q&A. 

Later that day, at approximately 8:00 pm, a star-studded trio that consisted of Rob Lowe, Robert Downey Jr., and Cillian Murphy arrived at the scene to celebrate RDJ’s win of the Maltin Modern Master Award. This is noted as SBIFF’s highest honor and is presented to recognize one who has “enriched our culture” through their performance, according to As the three made their way up the red carpet, a journalist tripped and landed against the red carpet’s railing, catching the attention and concern of RDJ who asked if they were alright before continuing into the theater. 

After RDJ’s Q&A, his co-star Cillian Murphy and his high school comrade Rob Lowe presented RDJ with the Maltin Modern Master Award before the three of them swiftly exited the stage.


February 10, Saturday

Zone of Interest producer James Wilson discusses the production process (Roman Trovato)

Keeping up with the Oscar nominated films, Saturday honored a celebratory flurry of movies in the forms of  producers and international directors panels as well as the Virtuosos Award. 

At 11:00 am, producers from the following oscar-nominated films arrived: Maestro (Fred Berner), American Fiction (Jermaine Johnson), The Holdovers (Mark Johnson), Barbie (David Heyman), Poor Things (Andrew Lowe), Killers of the Flower Moon (Daniel Copi), Anatomy of a Fall (Marie-Ange Luciani), Oppenheimer (Emma Thomas), and Zone of Interest (James Wilson). With many of these movies, production spanned a mere few months to several years. All of whom dealt with shared difficulties including absences and deaths from Covid, delays caused by the SAG-AFTRA strikes, as well as complications pertaining to geography and meteorology. 

Later, at around 2:00 pm, the audience greeted four members of the international director’s panel: Johnnie Burn, who was the director of sound design for Zone of Interest, Ilker Çatak (The Teacher’s Lounge), Matteo Garrone (Io Capitano), and Wim Wenders (Perfect Days). The four of them discussed their own difficulties while filming the movies, but more about the art of cinematography and their passion for the industry than anything else. Johnnie Burn talked about how important the role of sound played in not just any movie, but especially for Zone of Interest, as it takes place in a Nazi officer’s home just outside of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The majority of the tension and narrative was told through the sounds of horror heard right through the house’s wall. Ilker Çatak discussed that in his film, which takes place in an elementary school, the difficulty of having to handpick and find 23 children to play the parts of the students. Matteo Garrone’s movie depicts a struggle that has been known and taken place for decades: the immigration from West Africa to Italy. Following the dangerous and death-ridden journey of two Senegalese boys, Matteo wanted to make it a priority that the actors for this film were also real immigrants that had made the same cross through the Sahara desert and Mediterranean Sea. Wim Wenders, whose reputation as an internationally recognized and legendary filmmaker has been preceded by his films Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire, and many more, spoke about the interesting path that his most recent film, Perfect Days, has taken. Depicting a Japanese janitor for the Tokyo Toilet company, the production started in 2020 as a string of Japanese public restroom short films to promote the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Those stories were then formed into one, following the life of a janitor who has made peace with himself and his life and strives to see the beauty in what he does, reads, listens to, and experiences everyday.

“He doesn’t speak much, music speaks for him,” said director Wim Wenders, referring to the Perfect Days protagonist Hirayama.

At 8:00 pm, actors from the following films arrived to be honored with the Virtuosos award: America Ferrera (Barbie), Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon), Greta Lee (Past Lives), Charles Melton (May December), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (The Holdovers), and Andrew Scott (All of Us Strangers). Actors Danielle Brooks (The Color Purple) and Colman Domingo (Rustin and The Color Purple) also received the award but were unable to attend. Each actor was given a 15 minute interview before they all sat side by side on the stage. Greta Lee and Andrew Scott were accompanied by a glass of wine and a cocktail, suggesting there was socializing backstage. This was confirmed by everyone’s warm demeanor and laughter when answering questions regarding their favorite movies, moments from shooting, and what their favorite recently made films were. Andrew Scott in particular received many laughs in his comments to the interviewer’s questions.


February 11, Sunday

Mark Ruffalo poses for his photo on the red carpet at SBIFF (Roman Trovato)

On Sunday, SBIFF hosted their American Riviera Award which highlights outstanding performances in American films. This year’s winner was Mark Ruffalo for his performance in Poor Things. Alongside Poor Things lead Emma Stone, Mark Ruffulo was greeted with a cluster of Marvel fans and movie goers alike. Before taking a step onto the red carpet, Ruffalo either hugged, shook hands, or gave autographs to nearly every single person that came out that night to celebrate his achievement. After making his way through the fans and line of interviewers, Ruffalo had his Q&A before being presented with the American Riviera Award by Emma Stone. Upon being handed the award, Ruffulo gave a six minute acceptance speech, during which he took the time to acknowledge and shed light on the Israel-Hamas War.

“We can’t bomb our way into peace, and we can’t act like what’s happening isn’t happening,” said Ruffolo during his comments on the war, moments before the theater erupted in applause.


February 12, Monday


On Monday, the Arlington hosted the Variety Artisans Awards which, as the name suggests, highlights a multitude of artists who have worked on recent films. The following recipients include: Stephane Ceretti, VFX (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3), Billie Eilish and Finneas, songwriters (Barbie), Ludwig Göransson, composer (Oppenheimer), Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, production design (Barbie), Kazu Hiro, hairstyling/makeup (Maestro), Jennifer Lame, editor (Oppenheimer), Rodrigo Prieto, cinematography (Killers of the Flower Moon), Michael Semanick, re-recording mixer (Spider Man: Across the Spider-Verse), and finally Holly Waddington, costume designer (Poor Things).


February 13, Tuesday


Tuesday hosted the Outstanding Directors Award which was handed out to Justine Triet, the director of (Anatomy of a Fall) and Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon). Both were interviewed by a Hollywood Reporter on the stage at the festival, talking about their process while making their films and just their own experiences as directors. Both were then honored with awards, handed to them by Santa Barbara International Film Festival founder Roger Durling.


February 14-16, Wednesday-Thursday


Paul Giamatti was awarded the Cinema Vanguard Award for his performance in The Holdovers, and Jeffrey Wright received the Montecito Award in recognition of his role in American Fiction. The next night was Annet Bening, who was awarded the Arlington Award but she was unable to attend due to illness. Benning is the first to have ever been awarded the Arlington Award and it is the latest award added to SBIFF in twenty years.


February 17, Friday


The Women’s Panel took place at 11:00 am.

Giving young filmmakers (high schoolers and college students) their chance to shine.

The film festival concluded with the world premiere of the movie Chosen Family. This film is about a yoga teacher named Ann who is trying to find inner peace, despite having a manic family, a miserable dating life, and an inability to say no that keeps her busy trying to fix everyone else’s problems. 


Whether you attended the Santa Barbara international Film Festival yourself or are a fan of movies in general, we sincerely recommend the films mentioned in this article. If you wish to keep up with their success, be sure to tune in for the Oscars on March 10.

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About the Contributor
Roman Trovato, A&E Editor
Roman Trovato is in 12th grade at San Marcos High School and an alumni of the School of the New York Times. He is excited to begin writing for his second year in journalism as the A&E editor. His hobbies include reading, listening to music, running away from his problems, hanging out with friends, and playing video games. He is very excited to broaden his knowledge of journalism and to continue writing an assortment of nonsense!
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