What was once a small, overlooked film festival forced to the outskirts by behemoths like Cannes and Sundance, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) has grown into an impressive and star-studded nine-day event, which now rivals even the most established festivals. Much of that is due to Roger Durling, the director of SBIFF, who was hired two years ago to give the festival a much-needed facelift. Durling, a former playwright from Los Angeles, moved to Santa Barbara in search of another outlet for his artistic energy, stating, “The film festival, in the past, was always geared toward Hollywood and I thought it had turned its back on the community.”

After being named director of the festival last year, Durling began his renovation by incorporating the Latino community in Santa Barbara, as well as budding Santa Barbara directors. “I’m approaching the film festival from the film festival-goers’ point of view.” Last year, the festival opened with “Valentin,” an Argentinian piece by director Alejandro Agresti. It was the first time a Spanish-speaking film had ever opened the festival, displaying Durling’s obvious interest in involving the community. This year, Durling plans to continue involving the Latino community by commissioning UCSB film professor Cristina Venegas to organize CineMedia, a sidebar of the SBIFF, which shows powerful films from Latino and Latina filmmakers (see interview below).

Durling also started the 10-10-10 Competition funded by Sotheby’s International Realty, allowing 10 student filmmakers to make a 10-minute film in 10 days. The results have been more than impressive and have allowed the festival to reach out to the university. An exciting change this year, the winner of the 10-10-10 Competition will be awarded a cash prize of $3,000, which will be presented on the closing night of the festival.

First and foremost, the festival aims to excite people with new films – and this year should not disappoint. The opening night film will be Woody Allen’s “Melinda and Melinda,” which stars Will Ferrell and Chloe Sevigny. “You know Woody Allen, for awhile, wasn’t doing very good films,” Durling mentions, “but this is classic Woody Allen, a terrific film.” The Centerpiece film, the most highly regarded of the festival, will be the world premiere of “Dave Barry’s Guide to Guys.”

“It stars Dave Barry, and John Cleese, who is a local actor, of course, and Dan Marino. It’s written and directed by Jeff Arch, who lives here in Santa Barbara – a local writer and director – who was Oscar-nominated for ‘Sleepless in Seattle,'” Durling said.

To close out the festival, the world premiere of “The Moguls,” starring Jeff Bridges, a Santa Barbara resident, will be shown. These are just three of the over 40 films that will be shown at this year’s festival in panels like cult Asian films, Santa Barbara filmmakers, Maxxx (extreme sports films) and documentaries.

Along with reaching out to the community and showing cutting-edge films to the public, SBIFF also draws in celebrity cache by way of awards and panels. Receiving the prestigious Platinum Award on Jan. 30 will be star of “The Aviator,” Leonardo DiCaprio. The Monticeto Award will be given to Annette Bening for her lengthy and envy-inspiring career. An Outstanding Performance Salute will be bestowed upon Kate Winslet for her role in “Finding Neverland” and Kevin Bacon will be given the Rivera Award. Expect a gala celebration at each of these award ceremonies complete with paparazzi and other celebrities in tow.

SBIFF tries to please everyone who loves movies. From the highbrow to the lowbrow, anime to skate films, student shorts to social documentaries, Durling has assured that everyone can find something they like. ” I believe a successful film festival should not only engage the community in which it resides, but also the national audience. It should engage every film lover, not just the high brow film lover, but everything in between.”

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival will be held Jan. 28 – Feb. 6. Check out www.sbfilmfestival.org for more information on the film schedule and ticket availability.
Also, stay tuned to Artsweek for more festival information.