A marquee at the Santa Barbara Film Festival
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JANUARY - FEBRUARY

Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The city of Santa Barbara, also known as the American Riviera, rolls out the red carpet every January for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which draws hundreds of actors, directors, producers, and others from the film industry to the beautiful Central Coast.

As a non-profit arts and educational organization, the SBIFF has been putting on this event, one of the leading film festivals in the United States, for over three decades, and in 2016 acquired a magnificent state-of-the-art year-round home in the Riviera Theater. More than 200 films are screened at more than a half-dozen theaters over the festival’s 11 days, with programming that includes independent and foreign films as well as documentaries and more edgy productions.

The kickoff gala, which requires a ticket but is open to the public, takes place in downtown Santa Barbara’s beautiful Paseo Nuevo shopping district. After a screening of the opening-night film in the 2,000-plus capacity Arlington Theatre, the party moves outside where drinks, dancing, and live music is the order of business until late. On subsequent evenings the Arlington also hosts a succession of intimate Celebrity Tributes, also open to the public but requiring a ticket, which consist of a 90-minute conversation and reflection, complete with a highlight reel culled from each star’s body of work. Past winners such as Glenn Close, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton and many others have been given honors such as the Maltin Modern Master Award (for lifetime achievement), the American Riviera Awards (for contribution to American film), and seven others.

Other awards offers free events and screenings throughout the week so that those on a budget can join in on the red carpet fun. Nightly events include special panels with big-name people from the film industry, a great chance to get a peek into movie-making magic.

If one had to single out a main event of the SBIFF, though, it would undoubtedly be the black-tie fundraiser dinner for the presentation of the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film. This night consistently draws A-list celebrities, making for a true night of stars (recent honorees include Hugh Jackman, Warren Beatty, Dame Judi Dench, Jane Fonda, and Robert DeNiro). Tickets to this event are available to the public, but are on the pricey side ($750).