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For Santa Barbara Film Festival, a return to normalcy — until the rain came

For Santa Barbara Film Festival, a return to normalcy — until the rain came
Viggo Mortensen has some help staying dry as he signs autographs at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. (Rebecca Sapp / Getty Images)

Viggo Mortensen pulled away from his son’s Los Angeles home early Saturday morning, leaving himself with what he thought was more than enough time to make it to the midafternoon Santa Barbara International Film Festival tribute in his honor.

Then the rain started coming down harder, and Mortensen began bumping up the windshield wiper speed in his old Dodge pickup truck. Shortly before reaching Carpinteria, with the rain pouring and wipers all but useless, Mortensen hit a roadblock and was told to turn around. Highway 101 was closed.

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Last year’s Santa Barbara festival came shortly after the December 2017 fires and subsequent mudslides left the region devastated. The 11-day event gave residents an opportunity to come together as a community and return to a sense of normalcy, and that festive sense of business as usual carried over to this year’s 34th edition — until Saturday’s deluge.

A morning panel with the producers of the movies nominated for this year’s best picture Oscar (moderated by yours truly) saw its numbers reduced after several participants were diverted off the 101. Only Jim Burke (“Green Book”), Ray Mansfield (“BlacKkKlansman”) -- both of whom had arrived Friday -- and Bill Gerber (“A Star Is Born”) made it. An afternoon writers panel went on with just Paul Schrader (“First Reformed”) and Kevin Willmott (“BlacKkKlansman”). An evening tribute to Glenn Close was rescheduled for Sunday.

Mortensen didn’t want to cancel. So the 60-year-old actor, Oscar-nominated for his lead turn in “Green Book,” drove from Carpinteria to the Camarillo Airport, where he was soon joined by Ed Harris, who was presenting him the festival honor. They dried off, had some sandwiches and onion rings at the airport’s Waypoint Cafe and hoped that the rain would abate and a charter plane could make the round trip between Santa Barbara and Camarillo.

A few minutes before the tribute was scheduled, the plane touched down in Santa Barbara.

“It was a little nerve-racking,” Mortensen told The Times while smoking a cigarette to unwind. “It was a very bumpy ride.”

Mortensen’s determination to make good on his commitment underscores the Santa Barbara festival’s significance as one of the last stops on the Oscar campaign trail. The in-depth actors tributes, held in the 2,000-seat Arlington Theatre, provide Oscar nominees with a final chance to make an impression, or, in the case of “Bohemian Rhapsody” star Rami Malek, address the controversy surrounding his film’s fired director Bryan Singer.

“My heart goes out to anyone who has to live through anything like what I've heard and what is out there,” Malek said Friday, referring to the Atlantic magazine investigation published last week in which four men accused Singer of having sex with them while they were underage.

“It’s awful,” Malek continued. “It’s remarkable that this happens. I can appreciate so much what they've been through and how difficult this must be for them. In the light of the #MeToo era that this somehow seems to exist after that, it's a horrible thing.”

Malek then, for the first time, spoke of his own experience working with Singer, saying their situation was “not pleasant.” (Singer was fired two weeks before the movie wrapped for failing to show up on the set.)

"For anyone who is seeking any solace in all of this,” he added, “Bryan Singer was fired.”

The festival, which runs through Saturday, uses the tributes as “window displays,” in the words of longtime Director Roger Durling, to entice people to buy passes to see the more than 200 movies programmed and increase awareness of its year-round educational programs.

The pitch worked, as this year’s event moved a record number of passes, selling out the two lower tiers offered. The festival bookended its lineup with Santa Barbara movies, opening with “Diving Deep: The Life and Times of Mike deGruy,” a documentary about the underwater filmmaker and longtime festival supporter, and will close with “Spoons: A Santa Barbara Story,” which looks at the region’s surfing history.

Festival programmers also continue to run the Riviera Theater, recently selling more than 4,000 tickets to Oscar contender “Roma” during a seven-week run.

But it’s the tributes — and sometimes the receptions afterward — that receive most of the attention. Six years ago, Ben Affleck headed over to a nearby restaurant where he kibitzed with awards bloggers, asking them to move “Argo” up in their rankings.

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Mortensen didn’t have much time to schmooze beyond smoking that one cigarette. He had to return to Camarillo, retrieve his pickup truck at the airport and drive back to Hollywood to present a medallion to nominated “Green Book” director Peter Farrelly at the Directors Guild Awards. (“Roma’s” Alfonso Cuarón won the honor.)

“It’s a long day, but a good one,” Mortensen said.

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