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Santa Barbara <i>ambiance</i>

Santa Barbara -- Meni's latest CGI short “Terra” screened here the opening weekend of The Santa Barbara International Film Festival's short film program.
This, the 19th year of this Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences accredited festival, featured the most talked about writers and directors of the year along with an eclectic international film program. Director Aristomenis (Meni) Tsirbas joined over 80 filmmakers who presented their work in this scenic retreat just 90 miles north of Hollywood. This marks MENItHINGS second consecutive year that one of its CGI films has won over festival programmer Candace Schermerhorn. "We love Meni's films,” remarks Candace,”and we are privileged to have him back this year". She went further to explain that her staff screened over 700 entries before settling on the short film program for 2004.

The weekend began with panels that drew talent from some of the most notable films of the past year. The Victorian era "Lobero Theater" was host to the opening morning’s events. First up was the "It Starts with the Script" writer’s panel, followed by "Directors on Directing", and finally the producers panel "Movers And Shakers". Filmmakers shared their methods of creating screenplays for their films. Denys Arcand’s (“The Barbarian Invasions”) stories start from characters that often appear in his daydreams, while actor/director Tom Mcarthy wrote the script for “The Station Agent” in his trailer during filming of "Meet The Parents", based on characters he created in a small theater company. Writer Director Anthony Minghella sent the first drafts of his screenplay for “Cold Mountain” to all of his key colleagues for notes before his story really began to take shape. Director Jim Sheridan told a touching story of his brother’s death , and how his family found relief in working through their grief in the local theater company in Dublin. “In America” is the result of that process.

Writer John August ("Big Fish"), who had just completed the first draft of "Charley and the Chocolate Factory", was asked not to watch the original 1971 film "Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory", based on the Roald Dahl novel, until after he completed the script for director Tim Burton.

Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, ("The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King") worked closely with director Peter Jackson to create their scripts. It’s also interesting to note Fran Walsh's screen is credited as writer on "Dead Alive"; Peter Jackson's cult classic zombie film screened later that evening.

Prior to the screening of “Dead Alive”, director Peter Jackson told audience members just how difficult it was to produce the homage to Sam Raimi's horror films, with financing falling apart twice after extensive preparation. When the funds were finally in place, the original cast was assembled and the result is an 'over the top' gore film that plays more comedic that frightening. The director seemed to enjoy retelling the story of bringing "Dead Alive" to the screen.

Jackson, along with Walsh and Boyens, are currently writing their remake of the classic genre film “King Kong”. When pressed for details, Philippa Boyens confirmed "It will be a Gorilla!" Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson declined comment.

All of the writers set aside time each morning to write, the exception being Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) who writes night and day until her first draft is complete. "The script just pours out of me,” explained Jenkins, “I don't sleep, eat, or talk to anyone until it is done"

When asked what the toughest part of directing was, Peter Webber ("Girl with a Pearl Earring") cited bad food, poor weather and long hours, while Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”) struggled to create a fresh adaptation of a novel that was currently a best seller and therefore already in the public consciousness. Director Anthony Minghella (“Cold Mountain”) lived in constant fear the crew would discover how little he knew about his task, and director Patty Jenkins felt "claustrophobic" surrounded by the crew and their daily barrage of questions. Ed Zwick (“The Last Samurai") likened directing to being "pecked to death by chickens". Denys Arcand had the last word, declaring his job he as "the greatest ego trip in the world...I mean come on guys you are making directing sound so bad. It is the best job you could ask for...the best!" His refreshing view drew loud applause from the audience.

Notable presentations opening weekend were Peter Jones' documentary "Sunset Junction" and the "The Animation of Faith Hubley and Emily Hubley".

"Sunset Junction" is an absorbing documentary about Beverly Hills hairdresser Michael McKinley, who bridged the gap between the gay and Latino community in his East Los Angeles neighborhood. Using rival gangs as security, he orchestrated a massive street fair, complete with performances by legendary musicians, that recently celebrated its 19th anniversary. The director funded the documentary himself and was on hand with Michael to field questions after the screening.

"The Animation of Faith Hubley and Emily Hubley " was a collection of the extraordinary animated films by the Hubley family presented by daughter Emily Hubley ( 'Hedwig And The Angry Inch') at Santa Barbara's Museum of Modern Arts. Speaking to Emily after the screening, she discussed recently completing a screenplay in the Sundance Screenwriting Lab with mentor Mary Kay Place ("Being John Malkovich"). The story will combine live action and animated elements. Emily's films reflect three generations of personal animated short subjects that transcend genre.

The shorts program that "Terra” was slotted in featured an excellent array of international live action and animated films. Director Meni Tsirbas was on hand to answer questions. The theater was filled to capacity despite the beautiful weather and the Super Bowl competing for attention. When asked about budgets, Meni surprised the crowd by revealing the smallest budget of all the directors present, then confessed he spent it all on food!

An excellent festival in an idyllic setting, SBIFF wraps up Sunday Feb 8th with the awards gala.


Denys Arcand is one of Canada's most acclaimed filmmakers. The native of Quebec Provence received his first Academy Award nomination this year for his screenplay "The Barbarian Invasions" which was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Canada's two previous Academy Award-nominated films in the foreign language category included Arcand's "Jesus of Montreal" and "The Decline of the American Empire."

Patty Jenkins is a graduate of the American Film Institute's directors program and "Monster" is her first feature-length film. Jenkins' screenplay is about the story of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who was executed by the state of Florida for killing seven men during the 1980s. Charlize Theron received her first Academy Award nomination for Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of the troubled Wournos.

Jim Sheridan received his sixth Academy Award nomination this year for the original screenplay "In America." The story about a young Irish family moving to New York was based on the director's personal experience. Daughters Naomi and Kirsten also share writing credit. Sheridan's previous Academy Award-nominated films include "In the Name of the Father" and "My Left Foot."

Tom McCarthy is best known as an actor appearing in numerous films and television shows. With the "Station Agent," McCarthy makes his debut as a feature film director and screenwriter. The story about a man born with dwarfism moving to rural New Jersey to live a life of solitude after his only friend dies has received rave reviews and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for star Peter Dinklage.

John August's screenwriting career took off after he wrote and co-produced 1999's critically acclaimed film "Go." August adapted Daniel Wallace's novella "Big Fish" which director Tim Burton turned into a visual tour-de-force. Composer Danny Elfman received the film's only Academy Award nomination for his score. August also adapted Roald Dahl's classic children's story, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which will be released in 2005.

Anthony Minghella is widely regarded as a writer's writer for his adaptations of "Cold Mountain," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," and "The English Patient." In 1997, the director won the Academy Award for directing the year's best picture, "The English Patient." Minghella admits to reading through a book once before writing the screenplay adaptation.

Philippa Boyens received her second Academy Award nomination this year for her writing collaboration with Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh on "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The New Zealand native was previously nominated for "The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring." Along with Jackson and Walsh, she is writing the upcoming remake of "King Kong."

Filmmaker Peter Jackson owes much of his success to his longtime collaborator, writer-producer Fran Walsh. Walsh received the first of her seven Academy Award nominations for her original screenplay "Heavenly Creatures," a breakthrough for director Jackson. Walsh has been nominated for all three of the "Lord of the Rings" features. In addition, she is nominated for this year's Oscar for Best Original Song contributing lyric and music with Howard Shore and Annie Lennox.

Frank Pierson, moderator. Frank Pierson received an Academy Award in 1976 for writing "Dog Day Afternoon." Piesron also penned "Cool Hand Luke," widely regarded as one of the all-time film classics. He is currently the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Dane Smith


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