Okay, so Artsweek promised that last week’s issue was our last foray into the fabulous functions of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. But, alas, space constraints led to the exclusion of one of the most entertaining events of all from last week’s coverage. So, in the grand cinematic tradition of the seemingly endless cycle of sequels, here’s our SBIFF coverage: take three.
This time, our fearless reporter ventured into the dangerous world of the festival’s Director’s Panel, where men were boys – and the only gender invited to the table, apparently – and sarcasm reigned supreme. A place where all topics were on the table and no topic was too taboo. A place where some of the best minds in modern moviemaking came together to talk about their trade and take some serious potshots at their peers at the same time. And most importantly, a place where the banter was so beautiful, we couldn’t help but make space for it a good week after the festival’s official wrap date. Please do enjoy.
“I’m trying to be sincere, guys,” Jason Reitman said half-kiddingly, but trying to get in a sincere word edgewise among the flying one-liners at the Directors on Directing Panel was no easy feat.
The annual directors’ panel, moderated by Variety’s Editor in Chief Peter Bart, has to be one of the liveliest panels the festival has to offer, bringing together six of the year’s most noteworthy directors to discuss their work. This year’s panel featured Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), Brad Bird (“Ratatouille”), Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”), Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”), Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) and Jason Reitman (“Juno”), all of whom have drastically different sensibilities and attitudes about filmmaking. No topic was off-limits, and the panelists discussed everything from their influences as filmmakers to what films they think the presidential candidates would watch at the White House, as well as the future of animation.
At times, it was uncomfortably difficult to tell whether or not Spanish art house filmmaker Julian Schnabel actually hates Jason Reitman as much as he implied or if it was just his fearless, dry and sarcastic way of making a joke. The jury’s still out on that one. Reitman, the panel’s youngest director, took all of Schnabel’s heckling with a self-deprecating sense of humor, congratulating Schnabel for beating his film for Best Picture in advance.
Schnabel at first seemed to be the most reserved panelist, but he became one of the most outspoken. After he suggested a moratorium on the word “awesome,” which was clearly leveled at Reitman and his film “Juno,” “schnabelicious” became the suggested adjective du jour. This was all before Reitman unconsciously described a DVD set as “awesome,” eliciting roars of laughter from the audience before Reitman realized what he had said, which prompted him to hang his head and pretend to leave the stage.
Of course, there were many serious moments to be had as well. The writers’ strike has been anything but forgotten over the course of the festival and was certainly a hot topic at this panel, as seen in writer/director Judd Apatow’s response to a question from a festival attendee, who also happened to be part of the WGA, about whether or not the panelists supported the strike.
“Here’s the deal,” Apatow began. “The studios – for lack of a better word – would like to rape the writers,” before launching into a frank and serious explanation of the way writers’ residuals work and why the writers have a right to be unhappy.
Predictably, the panelists didn’t unanimously agree on the issue, but Adam Shankman, who appeared at the producers’ panel a week earlier to be against the strike, clarified his position by stating his concern for everybody who had been put out of work as a result of the writers’ demands.
“I am watching friends of mine losing homes,” Shankman said. “Do you want to know why everyone’s going to rehab?”
Schnabel, meanwhile, placed the issue in a larger global context.
“How the hell are we going to fix the Middle East if we can’t agree in Hollywood?” Schnabel asked rhetorically, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
Indeed, even now, as the strike seems set to wind down, it is clear that it’s indelible impacts on the entertainment industry may not be entirely measured for many months to come. But one thing is certain: Seeing how incredibly entertaining the simple interactions of some of the brightest men in movie-making were – even as they clearly spoke without scripts – just goes to show how much they deserve to be given all the tools they need to keep directing in the future.