An overview of the 35th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Wesley Stenzel, Arts & Entertainment Editor

The 35th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival is officially underway. The 11-day movie extravaganza kicked off last Wednesday night with the world premiere of “A Bump Along the Way,” a Northern Irish dramedy surrounding an unplanned pregnancy. The festival’s Executive Director, Roger Durling, explained that “our emphasis has been about inclusion, about education, about inspiring.” “A Bump Along the Way” reflects these priorities, as star Bronagh Gallagher noted that the movie is “very much representing women in film in Ireland,” a group not often represented in mainstream cinema.

After opening night, the festival kicked into full gear, with over 30 films screened each day in several locations in Santa Barbara. In total, the festival will show over 200 movies in its 11-day run. Many of the films are so new that their SBIFF screenings mark their world premiere or United States premiere, and many filmmakers and actors attend their movies to answer questions for the audience. The festival is truly international in its scope, with submissions from 50 countries.

The buzziest facet of the festival, however, is the celebrity tributes and panels. Each year, SBIFF honors exemplary performers, directors, and artisans with various awards. These awards are presented at tribute events, most of which take place at the Arlington Theatre on State Street. 

The tribute events are open to the public (if you buy a ticket), and also usually feature a free red carpet event where fans greet honorees at the barricade to get selfies and autographs.

2020’s first tribute, the American Riviera Award, went to Renee Zellweger on Thursday night for her work in “Judy.” After an evening of clips from and conversations about the actress’s most iconic performances, Zellweger accepted the award and said, “it is deeply touching that you have found meaning in these creative experiences that have meant so much to me … I am not good at the attention thing because I’m honestly just so lucky.” Later, Adam Driver accepted the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award on Friday, and a diverse group of eight up-and-coming actors received the Virtuosos Award on Saturday. 

Sunday featured a trio of exciting events at the Lobero Theatre: the Producers Panel, the Writers Panel, and the Artisans Award. At the Producers Panel, filmmakers behind Oscar-nominated films including “1917,” “Jojo Rabbit,” and “Parasite” reflected on the triumphs and challenges of their work. The producers spoke at length about their roles as protectors of directors’ creativity, and repeatedly expressed that they all love the movie-making process. 

The Writers Panel welcomed five screenwriters from a wider selection of films, from “The Farewell” to “Toy Story 4.” The writers explained their unique creative processes and shared information about their next projects. “Endgame” writer Christopher Markus fired back at Marvel detractors by saying “If I can tell a story about grief and loss and sacrifice to most of the globe … I don’t feel bad.” Greta Gerwig also explained that she wanted the final scene of “Little Women” left to interpretation.

Other events include Monday’s tribute to Lupita N’yongo and Tuesday’s evening with Laura Dern. 

What’s next? There’s still four days of the festival left. Tonight, Brad Pitt will appear at a tribute event at the Arlington. There will also be a four-film retrospective of South Korean director Bong-Joon Ho on Thursday, culminating in a free screening of “Parasite” and a Q&A with the filmmaker at the Lobero Theatre. Free screenings of silent film “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and Disney’s “Frozen II” will take place on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Numerous other free screenings can be found on SBIFF’s website.