Roger Durling stepped to the podium this morning and couldn't believe the Hotel Santa Barbara throng there to hear him unveil the lineup for the 28th Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
He had some Hollywood heavyweights in his back pocket -- Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, all of whom are coming to the festival this year. That level of star wattage has become the expected norm, especially in the 10 years since Durling, the festival's executive director, took over the helm.
Durling remarked on the TV cameras, notebooks, and social media devices trained on him and later said, "I'm having flashbacks to my first news conference. It was a tiny turnout; there was no one there. It just reflects on our growth in the last 10 years."
Looking back, he said, "it all definitely feels like yesterday ... I'm still as passionate as ever. And I want the stature of the festival to grow more."
Of this year's celebrity tributes, he said, "This year, I managed to get who I wanted."
Durling called landing Day-Lewis "the biggest coup ever for the festival." Day-Lewis, a two-time Oscar winner and almost surefire nominee this year for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in "Lincoln," is a reclusive type who typically doesn't do this type of event and had turned down the festival before, Durling said later.
"He was part of the short dream list of people I wanted at the festival," Durling confessed, "and we finally got him."
This year, Durling said, ticket sales are roughly a 50-50 mix of locals and out of towners; 10 years ago, it was about 85 percent local. Said Durling: "The word's getting out, we are promoting more and we are getting a lot of repeat customers."
Durling has a lot to sell to stars and fans -- Santa Barbara's gorgeous look, its proximity to Hollywood and the event's status amid the awards season frenzy (the Oscar nominations come out Thursday morning).
Affleck, Durling noted, is in the running for best director and best picture for "Argo," a deft look at the real-life risky rescue of six Americans behind the scenes during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
Lawrence, he averred, will get a best actress nod for her turn in "Silver Linings Playbook." Noting her success in "The Hunger Games," Durling said the 22-year-old Lawrence "is having one of the best years of any actor."
DiCaprio, star of "Django Unchained" and the upcoming "The Great Gatsby," created a deafening stir when he was honored at the 2005 festival.
Durling expects similar frenzy this year and said it won't be limited to DiCaprio, adding, "I think you are going to see some crazy red carpets this year."
- The 11-day event, running from Jan. 24 to Feb. 3, will showcase films from 49 countries, including 13 world and 32 U.S. premieres.
- The opening night film is "Disconnect," a look at our obsession with the tech world or, as Durling put it, "these devices that are meant to bring us together but instead splinter us."
- The closing night film is "Wasteland," a thriller about an ex-con who hatches a revenge scheme after he's framed by a drug kingpin.
- Celebrity tributes: Affleck, Jan. 25; Day-Lewis, Jan. 26; Adams, Jan. 31; DiCaprio, Feb. 1; and Lawrence, Feb. 2. All 8 p.m. at the Arlington Theatre, 1317 State St.
- The Virtuosos Award honorees, given to actors who have had a breakout performance, are Ann Dowd ("Compliance"), Elle Fanning ("Ginger & Rosa"), Ezra Miller ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower"), Eddie Redmayne ("Les Miserables"), Omar Sy ("The Intouchables") and Quvenzhane Wallis, the 9-year-old star of the indie cult hit "Beasts of the Southern Wild." They'll be feted Jan. 29 at the Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St.
- A retrospective will celebrate Mike deGruy, the underwater cinematographer, documentary filmmaker and festival driver who died during last year's event.
- Many staples return, such as panels featuring writers, directors, producers and women in Hollywood; the Apple Box family film series on both festival weekends; the "Field Trip to the Movies" for several thousand Title 1 Santa Barbara schoolchildren; and special film groupings spotlighting food and wine, nature, sports and other topics.
- For tickets and other information, call the festival office at 963-0023 or check out www.sbfilmfestival.org.
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