Six-time Oscar-nominated British beauty and talented actress Kate Winslet has come back to Santa Barbara for this year’s 24th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival to receive the Montecito Award. This award is given every year acknowledging someone who essentially is just, well… super cool (see last year’s recipient, the badass Tommy Lee Jones).

I admit it’s pretty sad that this is my fourth year attending UCSB as a film & media studies major and my first SBIFF experience. I always made the usual excuses like, “It’s so far away,” “It’s too expensive,” and normally the festival takes place around midterm time. It may be a little difficult to squeeze everything in, but the experience has been well worth any extra stress and inconvenience, and I certainly gained a better appreciation of British starlet Kate Winslet in the process.

It’s not that I never liked the actress before, or wasn’t familiar with her filmography: I loved Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind,” it’s just that it wasn’t until I recently saw Sam Mendes’s “Revolutionary Road” that I came to realize how brilliantly immersive her acting becomes on screen.
The easy thing to say is that I never think of her as Kate Winslet in her films. It’s Clementine I see. It’s Rose. It’s April Wheeler. It’s Juliet Hume. However, it’s clear she brings to her roles more than just that method element; she really does care about the roles she picks, and at age 33, she definitely has the acclaim to prove it.
Now a red carpet walk precedes the actual award event and let me tell you, for a first timer, losing my red carpet virginity was pretty rough, filled with flashes of ecstasy and pessimism. A cacophony of shouts to the stars (Kate Winslet, Bill Nighy of “Pirates” 2 and 3, Leonard Maltin and the bizarre Bai Ling) is paralleled by literally hundred of flashbulbs a second, combined with cameras, video cameras and microphones being shoved into each respective stars’ face. I doubt an epileptic could make it as a celebrity.
The event took place at the Arlington Theatre, and consisted essentially of an extended interview, conducted by film critic Leonard Maltin, with some clips thrown in for good measure, finally concluding with the award (presented this time by Bill Nighy).

Maltin interviewed Winslet with enough thoroughness that I think we all left satisfied. Of course, there were obligatory questions like, “What’s your inspiration?” and “How did you feel when___?” but overall, he managed to have plenty of taste, and if anything, Winslet seemed to be enjoying herself.

A moment that sticks out for me particularly was, after showing a clip from “Titanic,” she could not stop laughing for a few moments, and a puzzled Maltin inquired for all of us.

She essentially said that when she sees that film it isn’t her and co-star Leonardo DiCaprio playing the characters Jack and Rose, but just them as very young kids.

In addition to a few mic problems, the clip montages, set to modern rock music (Nickelback and Linkin Park) were pretty distressing, only because it felt entirely wrong for the films that she has acted in.

Those issues aside, overall I was struck with the impression that Kate Winslet is an actress who is self-aware of her position/career/fame, etc. and really takes what she does seriously, but with a real level of humility and grace that feels very refreshing.