SANTA BARBARA — Hollywood's unique awards calculus wouldn't seem to take a film festival at this posh coastal enclave into account.
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival, after all, is not a prestige movie launching pad such as the
Arriving exactly two weeks after
Consider that this year's festival, which runs through Sunday, is attracting Oscar nominees
One reason: More than 160 motion picture academy members are registered for the festival, and many others keep secondary residences here.
The SBIFF, which kicked off Thursday, touts itself as "a must-stop for front-runners on the awards season fast track." As such, the fest has staked its reputation hosting tributes in recent years for a substantial number of eventual Oscar victors including
This year, in addition to several Oscar nominees,
On Saturday night, Blanchett traveled up the coast to receive the festival's outstanding performance of the year award for her Oscar-nominated portrayal of a booze- and pill-addled
After cringing her way through a video montage from her two-decade film career — "Awful," she said, watching herself from the stage of Santa Barbara's venerable Arlington Theatre — she reminisced about the time "a tarantula crawled on
The 2005 Oscar winner, who recently landed a Golden Globe and a
"It's a prestigious festival!" Australia's Blanchett said. "It's a small community that really loves film and it's really coming into its own. To be singled out this way by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is absolutely thrilling. They've clearly made a mistake, but too late now."
A decade ago, the festival was a more parochial concern. Attracting no shortage of independent movie stalwarts and admirable films, its glam quotient and wow factor were comparatively dim. More of a getaway diversion, the festival was off the radar for top-tier talent.
That started to change in 2004 when Roger Durling was installed as executive director. At the time, the festival took place closer to springtime — after the Oscars — and had yet to adopt its star-studded celebrity tributes.
"It is convenient that we're a festival that happens to take place after the Oscar nominations," Durling said. "Every town in the U.S. seems to have an international film festival. This helps define us. It gives a clear indication as to what this festival is all about."
To be sure, the Santa Barbara fest provides a showcase for nearly 200 movies, including 35 American premieres and 24 world premieres, and is expected to draw around 70,000 attendees over its 11-day run. The 29th installment of the festival will also feature a series of panels on directing, screenwriting and other entertainment-industry-skewing topics.
But tributes — reverential career retrospectives that Durling likens in format to Bravo's
In addition to Blanchett's tribute and one last week for filmmaker Russell — who is in the Oscar hunt for his corruption caper
On Thursday, DiCaprio and Scorsese, the Oscar-nominated star and director, respectively, of the controversial biopic
According to Lea Yardum, a longtime Paramount Pictures awards strategist who helped organize the appearances by DiCaprio, Scorsese and Dern, Santa Barbara provides several "for your consideration" upsides, including the chance to bring Oscar contenders to academy voters off the Hollywood grid.
"The entertainment community goes to a lot of huge festivals and each has its individual charms," Yardum said. "But Santa Barbara is smaller; it's gorgeous. From an awards perspective, there's a good amount of members there. And you know you're going to celebrate talented people's accomplishments in a really intimate way."
She added: "When you get outside the primary cities where Oscar voters live, you are only helping your cause."
Santa Barbara local Michelle Bruner has been coming to the festival since the early '00s and remembered one under-attended tribute for "Dreamgirls" director
"The theater was half full and they were giving out free tickets," Bruner said. "They had to have volunteers go and pick people off the streets."
This year, nearly all of the panels sold out before the festival's start date.
On Saturday, a panel called "Creative Forces: Women in the Biz" showcased the working methodology of several of the year's most celebrated female producers: Dede Gardner (
Gardner remarked on the hothouse festival environment and its importance in promoting prestige films.
"It's not often you're in a small town filled with people who love movies," said the producer, president of
Blanchett, after being handed the outstanding performer of the year award by an uncharacteristically effusive
"I will come back again if you can invent another award for me," Blanchett said with a laugh.