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Santa Barbara film festival honours international directors

Director of Year award given to Alfonso Cuarón, Yorgos Lanthimos, Spike Lee, Adam McKay, Pawel Pawlikowski

The 34th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) honoured this year’s five Academy Award nominees for Best Director including Alfonso Cuarón, Yorgos Lanthimos, Spike Lee, Adam McKay, and Pawel Pawlikowski.

Each director participated in a one-on-one interview with The Hollywood Reporter’s awards columnist Scott Feinberg, followed by a group discussion and a special presentation for the 2019 Outstanding Directors of the Year award.


“This lineup in front of you is without a doubt a freaking amazing lineup of risk taking, push envelope, take no prisoners group of artists,” Roger Durling, executive director of SBIFF, told the audience when he took the stage at the Arlington Theatre at the end of the programme to present the five nominees with the 2019 Outstanding Directors of the Year award.

“You five make a case for cinema as art,” he continued. “Although I wish there were women included amongst you, I cherish and celebrate that all of you together is the best ‘fuck you Trump’ artistic lineup. You have a Greek director, you have a Polish director, you have a Mexican director…you have a black director, and you have a director that is willing to make a biting political satire. We need your voices more than ever – we don’t need a wall.”


Durling’s sentiments, including his comment about the wall, were received enthusiastically by the audience.


During the group discussion that preceded the awards presentation, all five directors were effusive with their praise of not only each other’s films, but also the films of other peers that had not received the same level of attention. When asked by Feinberg to identify a worthy, under-the-radar film from the past year, McKay, Pawlikowski, and Lanthimos all selected films directed by women. 


McKay recommended Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. He told Feinberg: “I love movies that get into a subculture and a world you don’t know about. I just thought that there was a rawness and an openness to that movie that just blew me away.”

Pawlikowski and Lanthimos both recommended Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro. Noted Pawlikowski: “She has a poetry all of her own and it’s a lovely story – it’s neither realist or fantasy.”


Lanthimos also recommended Lucretia Martel’s Zama, which he described as a “period film which is completely surreal at the same time.”


In addition to the Outstanding Directors of the Year award programme and presentation, SBIFF’s daytime programming offered festival-goers a number of events and screenings featuring some of this year’s most celebrated filmmakers and performers.


A screening of The Biggest Little Farm, by Emmy Award–winning documentary director and writer John Chester, follows his and his wife Molly’s journey as they trade city life to start their own farm on a stretch of depleted soil outside Los Angeles. The documentary chronicles their efforts for more than eight years in this sweeping epic of twists and turns related to the creation of Apricot Lane Farms.


In a Q&A moderated by Durling, John shared with the audience where it was that he drew inspiration from. “It came down to a quote by Wendell Berry,” he said. ‘It all turns on affection, and it just means that it can all change when we love something.”


When questioned about the filmmaking process, particularly about the eight years of filming and having gathered more than 90 terabytes of footage, John answered, “As a filmmaker, I believe it’s about content. You just have to get what you can get in the moment and a lot of it was on the fly. Nature is a juxtaposition of good and bad, and I think the film represents that.”


In the early afternoon, the festival hosted a special screening of “Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse” as part of the educational initiative, Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies.


Named for renowned nature cinematographer Mike deGruy, Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies uses filmmaking to stimulate creative, confident, and culturally aware thinkers. The programme is offered to 4,000 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students from throughout Santa Barbara County, and SBIFF provides free transportation to students from Title I schools. Sponsors include the Montecito Bank & Trust, Patagonia, Union Bank, Bentson Foundation and Volentine Family Foundation.


The festival also hosted a special screening of Roma which was followed by a Q&A with Cuarón and actress Yalitza Aparicio. Aparicio earned an Academy Award nomination for her work in the film, making her the first indigenous Mexican actress nominee.

Cuarón explained his unusual approach to making the film to the crowd, admitting that having less control gave him more creative freedom. “I needed to push my boundaries and do something I didn’t know how to do,” he said. “I had to give up control… and that was exciting.”


At the end of the Q&A, Aparicio was presented with the festival’s Virtuosos award for her groundbreaking performance. She thanked SBIFF, telling the crowd “Cinema has the power to break barriers and inspire love, courage and hope. I’m honoured to be here.”

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