Bryce Hutchins / Daily Nexus

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival annually brings industry professionals, student filmmakers, global talent and Hollywood elite to the Central Coast. This year was no different, with representatives from four out of five Academy Award nominees for Best International Feature in attendance. SBIFF’s International Feature Panel took place on Saturday, Feb. 10 at the Arlington Theater, welcoming directors Wim Wenders (Perfect Days), Matteo Garrone (Io Capitano), IIker Çatak (The Teachers’ Lounge) and sound designer Johnnie Burn (The Zone of Interest).

The festival’s executive director, Roger Durling, opened the panel with a quote from Korean director Bong Joon Ho before interviewing each panelist individually: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”.

The panelists took to their fluffy directors chairs as Durling gave them each glowing and heartfelt introductions. He began by addressing Burn, sound designer for “The Zone of Interest.” The film, directed by Jonathan Glazer, follows the home and family life of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss during the Holocaust.

The sound designer first emphasized the importance of sound to the film and explained that the camera never takes the audience beyond the Höss home and garden. In contrast, the sound design immerses the audience in the horrors of the neighboring camp.

“Sound has a connection to our primitive brain in a way that visuals don’t necessarily have,” said Burn. “When you look at a picture, you process it; when you hear a sound, you react to it.”

Burn then touched on the difficulty and emotional turmoil that came with designing the sound for the film. He felt as though he was working on two separate projects: the first, a family drama, and the second, a horror film. The sound team researched intensively before creating Auschwitz’s jarring and haunting sounds.

“Everything you hear is based upon witness accounts,” he explained. “All of us in post-production were glad when it was over.”

The following panelist to speak was Çatak, director and writer of “The Teachers’ Lounge.” What Durling described as a “pressure cooker,” the German film is a masterclass in cinematic tension. It follows teacher Carla Nowak as she navigates an accusation of theft against one of her students, which occurs entirely within the school’s walls.

When Durling asked why he decided to shoot the entire film in the school, Çatak, donned in a gray bomber-style jacket, responded that the school acted as a microcosm for many of the critical issues society struggles with. Once they decided to set it there, it became much easier for Çatak and his co-writer, Johannes Duncker, to finish the script and close all the loose ends.

“We very quickly realized that this closed system of a school is not just great production-wise,” Çatak said. “It’s a miniature of a country.”

Legs crossed and hunched over in passion, he continued on to say that every character and decision represented something. The school allowed him to tackle all kinds of societal issues, with the search for truth at the center of the project.

He also mentioned that parts of “The Teacher’s Lounge” were autobiographical. Çatak compared Carla’s experience as a Polish person and her feelings of alienation with his own as a Turkish person in Germany, emphasizing the need and desire to assimilate.

Next was Matteo Garrone, Italian director of “Io Capitano,” who touched upon his experience filming a movie about Senegalese migrants Seydou and Moussa on their journey to Europe. Garrone addressed the internal struggle of telling the story of a migrant experience as an Italian. He waited eight years before he decided to take on the film and said he was “very afraid to enter a culture that was not [his].”

“The movie will remain if we make [it] good, and I’m happy because we made it together,” Garrone said about actors Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall. “I was at the service of their story.”

The film heavily relied on Sarr and Fall, who sat in the second row of the Arlington Theater during the panel. Garrone never gave them the entire script, as he did not want them to know how the story ended in a successful attempt to get honest and authentic reactions out of the actors.

Last to speak, cinematic legend Wenders talked about “Perfect Days,” which follows a Japanese toilet cleaner named Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) and the simple routine that makes up his life. He is happy and enjoys physical media and trees, among other little, lovely things.

Wenders could have spoken more about his directorial process, but mainly focused on Hirayama’s story and character. His focus on Hirayama really emphasized his centrality to the story. “He leads a very simple life,” Wenders said. “You slowly get caught in how he sees the world, and you adopt to [it].”

“Perfect Days” is a film for observers about observers. The audience uncovers Hiroyama’s backstory by observing the everyday life of a man who finds true joy in observing his surroundings. Wenders said that he quickly realized they were “making a documentary about a fictional character,” a testament to the intimacy and realism of the film.

The panel closed with a final question regarding the experience of working with cultures outside of their own, to which both Garrone and Wenders responded. An authentically and ardently sweet exchange, Wenders complimented the opening of “Io Capitano,” and a bright-eyed Garrone beamed in response. Garrone mentioned earlier that he was honored to sit beside Wenders, one of his heroes.