For film buffs, Hollywood awards season is also a prime film festival season. January started with the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and the month ended with the kick-off of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, running now until February 10.
Opening night featured the premiere of the public, a new film directed by Emilio Estevez starring Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, and Christian Slater, which is set in Cleveland and grapples with issues of homelessness and addiction. Such serious themes—like immigration, the environment, and globalization—extend through a lot of this year’s film lineup. But the festival itself is a triumph over tough circumstances, with the city of Santa Barbara rallying after the recent Thomas fire and mudslides.
As the festival’s executive director Roger Durling recently told Variety, postponing or cancelling the festival was never an option, even when some major roads around Santa Barbara were closed. (They are all now open, as are area businesses.) “There was no hesitancy,” he said. “I understood from a very early age the power of cinema. People want to be together and the festival is a way to do that. It was essential for us to get our act together.”
The festival will continue over two weekends and feature 45 world premieres, 53 U.S. premieres, filmmaker panels, special recognitions for all five Oscar-nominated directors, and awards for actors such as Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, Sam Rockwell, and Gal Gadot. Saoirse Ronan, star of Lady Bird—the much-heralded coming-of-age story filmed mostly in Sacramento—will receive the Santa Barbara Award on Feb. 4. Some festival passes are still available, and individual tickets for panels and events can be had for as little as $10 or $20.
The festival typically draws about 100,000 attendees, and these guests are strongly encouraged to give a boost to Santa Barbara businesses that have struggled through the wildfire and mudslides. We’ve got our own suggestions for cool places to eat, stay, and play—check out our Spotlight: Santa Barbara and this list of 31 reasons to go to Santa Barbara.