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Posh Santa Barbara Film Festival Draws 31 Oscar Contenders!

Santa Barbara is a very upscale seaside paradise a scant 90 miles up the coast from Los Angeles, distinguished more for its socio-economic exclusivity, high rents, distinctive Spanish architecture and sprawling beachfront university than for the modest international film festival to which it has been home since 1985. Slowly building year by year and able to draw easily on Hollywood based talent because of its relative proximity to Tinseltown, the Santa Barbara fest has now come into its own and has staked out its claim as a serious contender along with San Francisco for the title of "most important California film festival".

Coming on the heels of the foreign press "Golden Globe Awards" held just a week ago in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara this year has been able to attract a veritable galaxy of stars, winners of globes and nominees for the upcoming academy awards. No less than 31 Oscar contenders -- thirty one -- are on the Santa Barbara guest list. The nominees were announced this morning in the Los Angeles Times.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which starts this week (January 25-February 4), has proven once again to have a strong thumb on the pulse of those likely to shine during the awards season. The Festival establishment was tickled pink with this morning’s Oscar announcements upon learning that 31 Academy Award nominees will be making an appearance at the 22nd edition of the festival! Said Festival Director Roger Durling, “It's thrilling to be able to host these many Academy Award nominees beginning just two days after the nods were announced! The road to the Santa Barbara Film Festival will definitely be paved in gold, this year.”

Leading the pack is “The Queen” herself, Dame Helen Mirren -- already tabbed as a shoo-in for this year’s best Actress Oscar for her role as the current English throne sitter, Queen Elizabeth II, in Steven Frears "The Queen" -- who will be recognized with the Outstanding Performance of the Year Tribute. This will be followed up by the festival’s Modern Master Award recipient, Will Smith, who received a Best Actor nomination for his performance in “The Pursuit of Happiness.” Giving Mr. Smith a run for the money in the Oscar Derby will be another Santa Barbara guest, front-runner Forest Whitaker, set to receive The American Riviera Award and the recipient of a Best Actor Globe for his role in “The Last King of Scotland.”

Other scheduled festival attendees who are up for Oscar nominations include: Sacha Baron Cohen, the British reincarnation of Groucho Marx, and his co-writers Ant Hines and Peter Baynham for the love-it-or-hate-it hit comedy, "BORAT" -- ( personally, I thought it was extremely stupid and hated it ...) -- African actor Djimon Honsou, who co-stars in "Blood Diamond" with Leonardo Dicaprio, Jennifer Hudson star of the Motown docu-drama "Dreamgirls," Peter Morgan, Screenwriter of "The Queen," and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, of "Babel”, all films which are currently raking in the shekels at American box-offices.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is a non-profit organization whose statement of purpose reads; "Dedicated to enriching local culture and raising the consciousness of film as an art form. The SBIFF presents quality American and world independent films, Latin American and Asian sidebars, and documentary cinema within the beautiful setting of downtown Santa Barbara, a city which is one of California's prime tourist destinations. The SBIFF is also committed to education through its Student Filmmaking and Screenwriting Competitions, and educational seminars.”

Given the demographics of the city, the posh sub-tropical setting, and the presence of a large university population, the SBIFF tends to attract an affluent film-sophisticated local audience while at the same time maintaining strong ties with the entertainment industry in nearby Los Angeles, all of which makes for a rather privileged and rarefied atmosphere. Sounds like a nice place to work and nice work if you can get it.



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