High school girls and enthusiastic film buffs alike staked out near the Arlington Theater on Sunday night, two and a half hours before Leonardo DiCaprio would present “Inception” director Christopher Nolan his Santa Barbara International Film Festival Modern Master Award.

As the onslaught of directors, producers, sponsors and actors attending the event made their way down the red carpet into the Arlington’s entrance, festival security guards walked through the queue reminding audience members to keep the line moving and refrain from taking photos.

The first and youngest director down the carpet was Alyssa Price, an actress-turned-director (as one could guess from her blonde barrel curls and trendy studded jeans). Price was promoting her latest film, “The Monstrosity,” a short coming-of-age story about an adolescent surviving the appearance of her first zit. Price’s gleaming smile seemed genuine as she voiced her excitement at being on the red carpet for her first time as a director.

“It feels great, and I’ll tell you what,” she said into the blinking cameras, “Finally getting recognized makes me think that maybe I’ll get to keep doing this.”

Other VIP attendees included director Carl Leblanc of “The Heart of Auschwitz,” actor Jamil Walker Smith from “Make a Movie Like Spike” and co-directors Dereck and Beverly Joubert of “The Last Lions.” The latter two were eager to share their new film to call attention to the impending, man-caused extinction of lions, and their newest collaboration with National Geographic.

Christopher Nolan made his way down the red carpet, his publicist hovering to his left and monitoring his every word. Still, his readiness to converse with public and press about his filmmaking techniques was refreshing to see from one of Hollywood’s most intense and cerebral directors. He also elaborated on his theories on storytelling and his mildly controversial refusal to consider making the third and much-awaited Batman film, “Batman Rises,” in 3D.

“The 3D aspect has to be decided upon depending on the quality of the story you’re telling,” Nolan said. “The next ‘Batman’ will be in 2D — it’s meant to be operatic, so there needs to be that separation. I want the characters to be seen as larger than life.”

Once the large crowd settled into the theater, Nolan was again subjected to a battalion of questions coming from renowned film critic and the night’s mediator Pete Hammond. The interview and film clip portion of the awards ceremony took almost three hours, with Nolan discussing his philosophy on directing, his past triumphs and tribulations, his early career (it all started with filming Lego pieces on an 8 mm camcorder) and how it feels to have gone from grossing $48,000 on a film to $80 million within the span of 11 years.

Although the event was long, it avoided tedium. In fact, the only hint of audience titters rooted with Hammond as he theatrically guffawed at Nolan’s jokes and asked questions like, “So you’re half English and half American… how does that work?!”

Eventually, however, the pair did get to Nolan’s most recent work, including the expected July 2012 release date of “Batman Rises,” the recent casting of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and, yes, “Inception.” With that, Hammond introduced Leonardo DiCaprio to the stage to give away the award. Cameras flashed on DiCaprio’s face (and I couldn’t help but notice that the audience was much quicker to the camera for him than for Nolan himself), as he praised Nolan for his ability to make his decade-long dream of “Inception” a reality. Nolan, admitting that the audience had heard quite a lot of him talking already, made a brief acceptance speech before he and DiCaprio left the stage.

Judging from his ability to explain the reasoning behind all of his past filmmaking decisions, it seems apparent that Nolan is a visionary director. I can only hope that, as president of the SBIFF Board Jeffrey Barbakow put it, the “Dark Knight, himself” can continue to fill his films with innovation with his recently acquired multi-million dollar budget and revenue.