SBIFF opening night balances British comedy with solidarity for Ukraine
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Wednesday’s opening night of the 37th Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) drew crowds to the Arlington Theater, in person, for the first time in two years.
Crews set up barriers along the way to the red carpet as fans waited patiently nearby, some for hours, to catch a glimpse of the celeb.
“I’m hoping to see Sally Hawkins and Mark Rylance but I don’t know,” local resident Debbie Price said.
Price said she has been coming to the popular festival for more than 30 years. She really hopes to see two of her favorite directors on Thursday night, Kenneth Branagh and Steven Spielberg.
At 7:00 p.m., the spotlight was on filmmakers from around the world and city leaders, all walking side by side on the red carpet. A local filmmaker, Isaac Hernandez de Lipa, walked on crutches.
“The film festival is nothing but a positive. Great way to usher in the new year,” said Randy Rowse, Mayor of Santa Barbara.
“It’s great to be back,” said actress and filmmaker Leslie Zemeckis. “It’s my third movie. Just being able to attend and be open with people is awesome.”
The steeple above the largest movie theater in Santa Barbara beamed yellow and blue, in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling initiated the lighting change.
“They will be beaming tonight and for the next 10 nights. And we will be linking to our website and page so people can donate to Direct Relief International,” Durling said.
The majority of filmmakers said the local solidarity show was fair. Some in the crowd held signs opposing Vladamir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“My heart is so heavy for what is happening to the Ukrainian people,” said Santa Barbara resident and teacher Paul Forster.
“Here, too, I feel like we are welcome and having the Ukrainian flag (lit tower) brought me to tears,” said Santa Barbara resident Oksana Yakushko.
Yakushko is from Ukraine and his family lives in Kiev. Forster said he too had Ukrainian heritage.
Many said kicking off the 10-day festival with a comedy, “Phantom of the Open,” was the perfect balance.
The film is based on a true story about a relentless optimist turned folk hero who qualified to play the British Open in the mid-1970s, despite never having played golf in his life.
The message – chase your dreams and swing high.
This year’s festival highlights 48 world premieres and 95 US premieres from 54 countries for the next 10 days.