Discover by Day, Dazzle by Night at Film Festival

By Barbara Singer

While the rest of the country is freezing, Californians know where to go for sun, surfing, fun and films: it’s their favorite resort with picturesque scenery and perfect weather for all seasons, especially Winter.

Santa Barbara, California, is a paradise where you can embrace endless pleasures of California landscape from the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains to wine vineyards and the Pacific coastline.

Historic Santa Barbara Mission (photo by Barbara Singer).

Picture a classical city that reflects its dramatic Spanish history and looks like a movie set. Considered one of the Top 12 Tourist Destinations in America, Santa Barbara is fondly called “The American Rivera.” This city is touched with a Mediterranean climate that promises year- round sunshine in a setting with unique ambiance, located just one hour and half from Los Angeles.

Here in quaint Santa Barbara, the lifestyle is casual with high style events paced with sophistication. The city is known as one of the wealthiest in the nation, especially its suburb of Montecito, home to the rich and famous, including Oprah Winfrey and Beanie Bag billionaire Ty Warner and so many artists, CEOs and celebrities.

But out of a whole calendar of events, the one that makes a visit to Santa Barbara the most special is the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, held each year just before the Oscars.

What makes it so different is that the SBIFF is very accessible, and you get to see – even hobnob – with the Oscar contenders.

Most of the Oscar nominated films are screened here, as well as foreign films and documentaries. Many celebrities come to the screenings and events during the days or evenings, because it’s so casual.

Many celebrities live in Santa Barbara; they feel at ease joining events, because the mania that surrounds celebrities is not present here.

A-List celebrities are the ones who are honored and they readily accept the invitations to attend because of the charisma of Santa Barbara and this film festival. The SBIFF is a reason to come to destination California and Santa Barbara at this time of year.

I sat next to James Cromwell at an afternoon screening this year, last year Daniel Baldwin and behind Clint Eastwood last year, when Angelina Jolie was honored. It’s open seating at the tributes and screenings and celebrities have their seats reserved with their names holding their places.

The festival begins with banners lining the pulse of the city, historic downtown State Street, and city residents and visitors buzzing about films along signature red tile streets leading to the Festival theaters. This elite film festival, held this year from Jan. 22 to Feb. 1, could well be the Cannes of the West on the American Rivera with all its festivities and star power. This city brushes with Hollywood with its hometown filmmakers, who participate at the SBIFF with their dialogues and films.

Downtown Santa Barbara, where the past meets the present, is the picture perfect festival setting with soaring palm trees, white washed buildings and red tile roofs all in Spanish-style. Festival head honcho Roger Durling has the knack of inviting the winners to the SBIFF, who are just about to garner the coveted Oscars. There is a dazzling affair every night without the paparazzi frenzy of Hollywood.

Red tile State Street Downtown (photo by Barbara Singer).

Ready, set, roll…headliner Kate Winslet received her second special Montecito Award from friend Bill Nighy and went on to win the Oscar for “Best Actress” and Penelope Cruz, deemed the ‘Spanish Enchantress’ by Durling, was presented the Outstanding Performance Award by her friend Josh Brolin and then brought home the Oscar for her role in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” Joining the illustrious tributes were Golden Globe winner Mickey Rourke, honored for his film comeback with the American Rivera Award, presented by icon Francis Ford Coppola and Kristin Scott Thomas received the Cinema Vanguard Award from her English friend Ralph Fiennes.

2009 Virtuosos Awardees were other Oscar nominees Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, Michael Shannon, Melissa Leo, Rosemary DeWitt and Sally Hawkins. “Benjamin Button’s” admired director, David Fincher, shared an evening of clips and chatter about his film career with another eager crowd. I am not kidding, this festival brings out so much spirit, excitement and passion that it’s easy to become addicted.

Santa Barbara truly loves film icon Clint Eastwood, a man of few words and strong actions and a living legend in front of the camera and behind it with his directing, producing and film music scores. I was thrilled to sit behind him last year when he presented Performer of the Year award to Angelina Jolie, as Brad Pitt beamed. Eastwood, who lives nearby at Carmel by the Sea, packed the Arlington Theatre for a well-deserved tribute. He was presented with Santa Barbara’s Lucky Brand Modern Master Award, bestowed with pride, by Academy Award winner Sean Penn; the SBIFF’s highest nod to the very best.

The opening night bash at the outdoor Paseo Nuevo open air shopping mall brought out city residents, officials, filmgoers and those Platinum Pass holders, who have carte blanche at the SBIFF, while local restaurants served specialty tastings to the spirited film partygoers. One of the many sponsors Chopin Vodka pleased the crowds with its Red Carpet Cocktail, combining vodka and cranberry juice.

With screenings of over 200 films, my preferences were biased to foreign films. My favorites from this year’s line-up were: Mexico’s “Tear This Heart Out” and Sweden’s “Everlasting Moments” and the documentary narrated by Martin Sheen “They Killed Sister Dorothy.”

Between films, events, panel discussions and tributes, festival visitors are treated to Downtown Discount Guides, where they can dine and shop at a discount. Certainly an incentive to be in Santa Barbara during the Festival. Actually the early glamour of Hollywood began in Santa Barbara with hundreds of silent films produced at the city’s Flying A Studio in the early 1900’s.

Participating in the Film Festival

Visitors to Santa Barbara International Film Festival can join in the activities, since tickets are available downtown on State Street to films, tributes, panels and other events. The headquarters is at the Hotel Santa Barbara and visitors can stop by there to get all the information to connect. The website is a helpful calendar for tributes, tickets and film screenings. Tickets can be ordered on-line, too. Locals, visitors to Santa Barbara, film festival fans and everyone, who is interested can come to events; tickets are on sale for purchase and programs are available all over town. It is a loved event here and easy to get here by 101 Freeway from Los Angeles or Santa Francisco.

The parties are private, except for the opening and closing parties which are a part of the tickets purchased for the opening and closing screening tickets. The Platinum Pass is an all access ticket; it’s the most expensive ticket. Believe it or not many have it; those ticket holders never wait in any line and they show their pass and enter first everywhere.

For further information about the festival, visit.

Santa Barbara By Day

'Performer of the Year 2009' awarded to Academy Award winner(Best supporting Actress) Penelope Cruz (photo by Rebecca Sapp).

Discovering Santa Barbara by day defines enjoying a city dotted with tall palm trees, lush parks, gardens and yachts. Bright days encourage indulgence in sea sports like: surfing, sport fishing, whale watching, scuba diving, boating and dining in fish specialty restaurants like my favorite seafood spot Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant at the harbor. Every week a colorful Farmer’s Market covers downtown streets with fresh produce and flowers from the Central Coast region. During the festival I gathered bunches of lavender from the Central Coast that filled flower carts positioned in front of the festival’s Metro Theatre.

Between the mountains and the sea are so many ways to enjoy life.

In the course of a day, you can picnic on the beach, art hop in numerous galleries, visit the wine country and explore local trails on foot or horseback. However, a trip to Santa Barbara would not be complete without a visit to the beautiful Santa Barbara Mission, known as the “Queen of California’s 21 Missions.” Today it continues to reign as the city’s chief cultural and historic landmark with many events presented on its grounds, last year of Santa Barbara’s Spanish Fiesta opened on the Mission steps with colorful Spanish dances and a flashing light show. The best way to experience Santa Barbara is to visit the old Mission and then follow the Red Tile Walking Tour, stopping at historic sites, especially Santa Barbara’s beautiful Court House, to identify the history and enchantment that denotes Santa Barbara.

Lodging, as well as restaurants, in Santa Barbara run the gamut from chic to deluxe to budget. As a frequent visitor to this great city, I have stayed at many hotels and B & B’s. On the high end, the luxurious The Four Seasons Santa Barbara Biltmore Resort & Spa ( is my eternal favorite, set by the sea in the affluent suburb of Montecito, one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. It is home to many celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Kevin Costner, Rob Lowe, John Cleese and billionaire Beanie Baby entrepreneur Ty Warner, owner of the Santa Barbara Biltmore and nearby luxurious hideaway San Ysidro Ranch as well as many golf courses, Ty Warner Sea Center and much more.

The historic Santa Barbara Biltmore is a Spanish Colonial treasure with traditional red roof tiles, ivory adobe and graceful archways that look out to Butterfly Beach, reflecting the glory of old California.

In downtown Santa Barbara, the newly re-invented deluxe Canary Hotel ( features the town’s signature Spanish influences of the Canary Islands, but with a dash of Moroccan spice, and a few conspicuously placed, caged yellow finches. Up on the roof at Perch, you can take in views of the Pacific and the Santa Ynez Mountains while downing a drink at the pool bar. Guest rooms feature four-poster beds, wireless Internet access, an organic mini-bar, and, strangely enough, bird-watching guides and binoculars. In Santa Barbara, a stay at most hotels for two nights includes the third night as complimentary.

My most enjoyable luxury B & B experience was charming at The Simpson Inn (, a luxurious 1874 Victorian mansion with deluxe cottages with a living room Jacuzzi. It’s located in a historic residential neighborhood.

'Montecito Award 2009' garnered for the second time by Academy Award winner (Best Actress) Kate Winslet (photo by Rebecca Sapp).

Downtown, I have often stayed at the historic Hotel Santa Barbara ( headquarters for the SBIFF, coffee and snacks always in the lobby; it’s just minutes to shopping, dining, pubs and theaters.

Visiting the Central Coast Wine Country has an immense appeal to visitors and in Santa Barbara and there are several wineries downtown that welcome tasters. Another popular trip follows Highway 101 north to discover the “Sideways Tour” based on the ever-popular film that brought tourists seeking the wineries visited in the film.

Santa Barbara has so much more to discover that a journey here is a continuous revelation. In addition, this city has gone green in every way; it was a forerunner in environmental preservation. Santa Barbara Car-Free is a city program encouraging Amtrak train travel with considerable hotel, restaurant and shopping discounts that go with the ticket. The train arrives in the city downtown and everything is within walking distance.

You can find out everything about the paradise that is Santa Barbara at It’s the perfect place for a winter getaway and a cherished holiday at any time of the year.

Wednesday, 11 March, 2009

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