34th Film Festival finishes strong

Wesley Stenzel, Staff Writer

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival welcomed a wide variety of cinematic artists and entertainers in its second and final week. Numerous Academy Award nominees gathered at the Lobero Theatre on Monday night for the Variety Artisans Award, which honors experts from many behind-the-scenes departments every year. Moderator Tim Gray spoke with each of the nine honorees separately, then brought them all back for a final group Q&A. 

“Black Panther” costume designer Ruth Carter described the Marvel film as a “wonderful exploration of culture and color,” and explained that she tapped into a “vast resource” of various African tribal clothing and injected a futuristic Wakandan spin to create some of the year’s most memorable costumes. Meanwhile, “Roma” sound designers Sergio Diaz and Skip Lievsay said that their biggest challenge was era-appropriate sound effects for the early-1970s setting, and revealed that director Alfonso Cuarón wrote lines for each of the 300 extras––all of which had to be re-recorded in the studio. “Mary Poppins Returns” music composer Marc Shaiman described his work on the Disney sequel as his dream job because he and his collaborators got to “recreate what we loved as kids,” and joked that he really hopes to win this year’s Oscar because he’s one award from reaching an EGOT. Other honorees included “Cold War” cinematographer Lukasz Zal, “Vice” makeup and hair supervisor Patricia Dehaney, and “Ready Player One” visual effects supervisor David Shirk.

The festival also honored Michael B. Jordan with the Cinema Vanguard Award on Thursday night for his work in “Black Panther” and “Creed II.” Jordan’s arrival to the Arlington Theatre was met with intense cheering, to which SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said, “in sixteen years of running this festival, I have never heard or seen a reaction like the one outside when Michael B. Jordan showed up.” The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg moderated a retrospective of Jordan’s career, showing video highlights of the young actor’s best work and interviewing him about his journey. Jordan told the audience that his career began due to a random coincidence, when a receptionist at a doctor’s office encouraged him to take up modeling as a child. After viewing clips from “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights,” Jordan said that watching himself act as a teenager makes him “cringe a little bit” because “it’s just kinda weird how raw it is at that age.” He explained that he never dreamed of becoming a movie star, and that he only pursued acting because he needed a job. 

A turning point in his career was 2012’s “Chronicle,” which marked the first time he instructed his agents to pursue roles that were written with Caucasian men in mind. Jordan explained, “I wanted to play non-stereotypical roles. I wanted to authentically tell a black experience through a character that is not the stereotype.” Inclusivity has become Jordan’s primary focus ever since “Chronicle,” and led him to play comic book characters like Johnny Storm in “Fantastic Four” and Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther.” Although the former film was widely disliked, Jordan said, “The backlash, the write ups, the critics…regardless of what the movie did, in hindsight I would do it all over again for that Halloween. Seeing those little black and brown faces dressed up like Johnny Storm made it all worth it to me.” Similarly, when asked about “Black Panther, Jordan stated, “Being in Atlanta with a lot of black and brown faces on the crew…being on these traditional African sets, it was like our ‘Star Wars.’ It was that place where we felt like we can dream and imagine and play make believe, but also be rooted and grounded in our culture.”

The future of Jordan’s career looks bright. In addition to confirming “Creed III,” Jordan spoke at length about his new production company, which he hopes will be a force for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the film industry. “How do I build an ecosystem? How do I build something that is going to last a lot longer than my physical body and my career? How do I set up an environment to help other people win? Give other opportunities to actors, directors, writers, producers, executives, whatever it is, I want to create that space…to remind people of the talent that exists that may not be getting those opportunities.” Surprise guest Jamie Foxx took the stage at the end of the night to present Jordan with the Cinema Vanguard Award, praising the young actor for his work ethic and passion for inclusivity. The film festival will return next January 15-25.