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One thing is certain – Santa Barbara loves films. It’s talk, view and celebrate films for 10 busy days and evenings, and with the Academy Awards just around the corner, the ever-popular Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) continues to be the city’s foremost crowdpleaser, hailed by this arts and film loving community, as well as visitors, international and national. This year, the SBIFF recognized Academy nominated talented actors, directors and others, tributing and awarding them for their amazing work present and past.

“La La Land,” penned and directed by Damien Chazelle, has been breaking all the records. It swept the Golden Globes with seven wins and is heading to the Oscars with 14 nominations. Santa Barbara was dazzled and excited by the powerful duo of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as they were feted with the Outstanding Performers of the Year Award for this bittersweet musical love story of a would be actress and jazz musician in Los Angeles, with musical and dance numbers reminiscent of the old classic musicals.

Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Outstanding Performers of the Year, photo by B. Singer

Filmgoers were fascinated with the film, and Santa Barbara was delighted with this talented charismatic duo, who appeared together in “Crazy Stupid Love” and “Gangster Squad.” Gosling, who is working on a Busby Berkley project, has a fondness for classical musicals and spent long hours training as a jazz piano player for the film, while Stone trained in voice and dance skills. The film’s composer, Golden Globe winner Justin Hurwitz, was a former Montecito resident.

Roger Durling, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Damien Chazelle

Film lover and SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling was at the helm of the evening, which featured a packed audience. As Hollywood embraced their film, the SBIFF embraced Gosling and Stone as they chatted about their lives and careers. Belvedere Vodka, the evening’s sponsor, awarded both honorees with a personalized etched Bespoke silver saber Belvedere Vodka bottle from their special collection.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, Barbara Singer Photo

Spirits were high even if the weather was wet, as the 32nd Annual Santa Barbara Film International Festival began with a warm welcome from the Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Executive Director Roger Durling. This year opened with an impressive documentary, chronicling one man’s journey, who after experiencing 2400 volts of electricity, lost the use of his left hand and forearm. “Charged” is Eduardo Garcia’s story and his road to recovery bolstered by his positive attitude. Garcia was present to greet film fans along with director Philip Baribeau. As always, the spectacular Gala Inaugural Party commenced with gusto downtown at Paseo Nuevo Plaza, filled with music, food offerings and plenty of fun.

Denzel Washington, Barbara Singer Photo

Always a special tribute, the fest included the Maltin Modern Master Award, named for famed film critic, author and cinema historian Leonard Maltin, who has moderated this tribute for more than 25 years. Denzel Washington, the 2017 honoree, has garnered major accomplishments in his field of film and theatre, as well as directing. He has long been a leading man and played notable historical figures with two Oscars and a recent Golden Globe. He is Oscar nominated for the August Wilson play “Fences,” which he portrayed on Broadway and brought to the screen. He plans to bring more of Wilson’s plays to the screen.

During his Maltin interview, Washington revealed that active years with the Boys and Girls Club influenced his life. His friend and colleague Stephen McKinley Henderson presented this award. Roger Durling noted, “Denzel Washington, directing, producing and acting in “Fences,” defines the Modern Master for the 21st Century.”

The Virtuosos Award has been an annual favorite, as it recognizes those exemplary film performances in the past year that are unforgettable and readily identifiable. Host Dave Karger noted, “You can have a breakout moment at any time and any age, since the age range of these performers is 20 thru 60’s.”

He interviewed these breakout actors, the SBIFF 2017 Virtuosos, including Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals), Dev Patel (Lion), Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures, Moonlight), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Ruth Negga (Loving), Simon Helberg (Florence Foster Jenkins) and Stephen McKinley Henderson. All awards were presented by actor and producer Christopher Lloyd, a Santa Barbara resident.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and his wife Sam, Virtuoso Photo by B. Singer
Dev Patel, Virtuoso Photo by B. Singer
Ruth Negga, Virtuoso photo by B.Singer
Naomi Harris, Virtuoso photo by B.Singer
Virtuosos Award photo by B.Singer
Mahershali Ali photo by B. Singer

 

Festival supporters continued to pack the theaters, despite the rainy days, seeing films from more than 50 countries in every genre, including “Revenge” (Nordic), “Different Flowers” (USA) and “Cruelty” (Iceland).

This all-inclusive film festival has something for everyone, from tributes to panels: producers, writers and women in film, young filmmakers 10-10-10 project, and Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies, where some 2400 students are invited to a day at the movies. Free family movies are always popular, as are the talks with filmmakers, which inspire future careers.

Everyone agrees that this is one hot film festival that makes everyone happy, including the 700 volunteers. Check it out at sbiff.org.

All photos copyright Barbara Singer. Do not use without permission.  

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