SBIFF 2012: How Festival Director Roger Durling Is Getting Around Oscar Season (Q&A)

 

Under the guidance of executive director Roger Durling, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has become a must-stop on the awards circuit. While the festival itself, heading into its 27th year, has grown steadily in size and scope, the fact that it occupies key dates -- right after the Academy Award nominations are announced -- has allowed Durling to lure a starry lineup of actors and directors up the coast to take part in its annual tributes. This year, though, with the Academy instituting tougher campaign rules, Santa Barbara's favorite-son status appeared as if it might be threatened. Durling explains how the festival responded.

AT A GLANCE: The 27th edition of the festival will screen 16 world premieres, 37 U.S. premieres and films from 44 countries

  1. Opening gala: Darling Companion, Jan. 26
  2. Closing gala: Where Do We Go Now?, Feb. 5

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The Hollywood Reporter: Were you afraid that you wouldn't be able to honor Oscar hopefuls when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its new rule curtailing awards campaigns after the Oscar nominations are revealed?

Roger Durling: We were very concerned. We start planning the festival as early as March of the previous year, and we had secured a lot of the honorees already. Our fears were assuaged when the Academy told us that because our tributes are about the careers of each of the honorees, we're fine to keep doing what we're doing, as long as we follow the rules.

THR: If the Academy moves the Oscar ceremony to late January or early February as some Academy members have proposed, would you be forced to move the festival's dates?

Durling: I would definitely have to consider it. We would probably have to move the date or rethink completely the festival.

THR: What led you to select Lawrence Kasdan's Darling Companion as this year's opening-night film?

Durling: For a number of months, we had been asking Sony Pictures Classics for another film we wanted for opening night. At one point, they said, "We actually have something else that might be more suitable." Because of the magnitude of the director and the fact that it's such a crowd-pleaser, I jumped at the opportunity. It's a perfect opening-night film and a genuine gift from SPC.

THR: How do you get your  other films?

Durling: We have a very small staff -- there are only three programming people, including myself. We use the search engine Withoutabox, travel to other film festivals and accept film submissions, close to 4,000 each year, as well. There are ultimately 200 films.

THR: How difficult has it been to get premieres of U.S. films when your fest comes on the heels of Sundance ?

Durling: You just have to be aggressive. They cannot grab everything. There's crossover: We have a dozen films that are first premiering at Sundance, including West of Memphis. This year we had better leverage because of our new acquisitions program.

THR: How much acquisitions business do you expect to take place at SBIFF, given that it comes right after Sundance and right before Berlin, where so much activity takes place?

Durling: I don't know. I do know that we will have a dozen acquisitions people here. We are committed to growing the program. It doesn't cost us that much to pursue it.

THR: With the proliferation of festivals, what have you done to give SBIFF its own identity?

Durling: When I took over the film festival [in 2004], I insisted that in order for SBIFF to be successful, it needed to be very specific to the Santa Barbara community. In order for that to work, the festival itself needed to be a kind of mosaic of what Santa Barbara is -- that's why we have surf films and a food sidebar called Screen Cuisine and another sidebar, Kolnoa, a selection of films about the Jewish and Israeli experience. Thirty-five percent of the Santa Barbara population is Latino, so the film festival reflects that, too.

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THE HONOREES: Awards-season hopefuls in the spotlight

  • Outstanding Performer of the Year: Viola Davis
  • Modern Master Award: Christopher Plummer
  • American Riviera Award: Martin Scorsese
  • Virtuoso Award: Demian Bichir, Rooney Mara, Melissa McCarthy, Patton Oswalt, Andy Serkis, Shailene Woodley
  • Cinema Vanguard Award: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo
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