Attending the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) seems like a promising start for those new to the city—the funky old theaters brimming with filmmakers, film enthusiasts, and well-heeled tourists, all supporting the art form they love offer an enthusiastic cultural introduction. Go ahead: pick out a few events, put your good shoes on, and join the crowds on State Street, teeming with barely-bridled excitement.
Granted, doing so requires planing ahead and a lot of waiting in line, not to mention leaping into the unknown with new films by unknown directors. The safer option is always to allow for a few decades of critical approval before trusting these creatives with two hours of your life. Luckily, the Santa Barbara crowd this year appeared a fair bit more trusting than that and like they might even enjoy the roll of the dice a new film can offer.
When faced with a lot of choices, documentaries are the obvious option. The Art of Eating: The Life of M.F.K. Fisher, Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection, and a documentary about Jane Campion are all attention grabbing.
At Wade in the Water: A Journey Into Black Surfing and Aquatic Culture, Sharon Schaffer, the first ever Black woman pro surfer featured in the documentary, made an appearance. With her bubbly energy and the rest of the cast and crew in attendance matching her emotional outpouring, those involved were clearly moved by the project and its message.
Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer, was an automatic winner at the festival, given the apparent brilliance of its subject. Having already been steeped in the folklore around him and his filmmaking, it was evident the film took no shortcuts in representing the full scope of Herzog's radical career.
Later, a tribute was organized for actor Cate Blanchett. On the way there, a Ukranian friend announced that she had a bouquet of flowers to present to Cate, to thank her for her vocal support of the country. Despite her definitive status as one of the foremost actors of the moment, Blanchett appeared touched by the small gesture, and the bearer was relieved to have carried out her mission, though she did privately confess that she will never do that again, after realizing it is no longer a custom in the U.S. Bless you, Alice!
In short, SBIFF proves itself to be a charming week where actors, writers, and directors descend on the small town to share stories and insights with fans. Well-traveled visitors will spot El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel in Santa Barbara, as a choice location for off-hours relaxation. The hideaway in the hills of the Riviera is close enough to downtown for easy transport, but offers a lush retreat from the chaos film festivals can inspire. After a day of films, recline with cocktails at The Dining Room with the Californian sunset over the harbor as a backdrop. While waiting in respective lines in the city, festival attendees are surrounded by proud parents of producers, aspiring filmmakers, students, and hedge-fund people alike. Collectively, the crowd rooted on the movie industry, wishing valiently for it to weather its latest hardships and to continue to astonish with its craftsmanship.