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Santa Barbara International Film Festival wraps

Despite the inclement weather, the 23rd Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) was smooth sailing - from the tributes, the “Conversations With…”, the panels as well as over 200 films- were enthusiastically received by locals and visitors alike.

The films at SBIFF this year were defined by a variety of subjects that were vast and topical including the environment, education, youth and world cinema. SBIFF has maintained the level of excellence and holds itself responsible for addressing the tastes of so many. In true tradition set forth by SBIFF, this year's programming raised the bar once again.

In anticipating the audiences’ hunger for compelling and provocative stories SBIFF brought an array of films that served up an excellent offering. With films screening from morning to night, the theatres filled up with the film connoisseur’s quest. Apple Box Family Films, To The Maxx, Latino CineMedia, East X West, Reel Nature are the successful staples that those in attendance have come to expect and those new to the festival are delighted for the introduction.

Apple Box Family Films provided a venue for families to have their own movie going experience. “Diamond Dog Caper” a traditional theme of a boy and (someone else's) dog and “A Plumm Summer,” based on a true story of a beloved kidnapped TV puppet, are just two samples of the quality family entertainment found at this year's Apple Box.

To The Maxx - SBIFF's nod to the world of sports and competition offered up a wide range of topics from surfing (Busting Down the Door), rollerblading (Sliding Liberia) and snowboarding (Picture This) to name just a few!

Latino CineMedia presented 16 films highlighting the best of Latin American and Spanish cinema. “Water Flowing Together” and “The Man of Two Havanas,” tell the story of a successful dancer and rarely discussed truth of terrorism in Miami during the 70's and 80's, respectfully.

East X West, inspired by actor-director and local resident Tim Matheson, included ten films with a broad selection that had a mix human emotion, horror, action, comedic stories.

Reel Nature featured four films dealing with the reality of nature, and the effect that we as humans have on the environment.

Newly created, the Eastern Bloc presented Eastern European cinema providing the venue in which other countries could tell their stories and represent another part of the world.

This year’s tributes brought together both rising and legendary talent. From the statuesque Cate Blanchett being honored at the 2008 Modern Master to the recent Screen Actors Guild Award Winner Julie Christie for her role in “Away From Her,” SBIFF was showered by a star-studded list of honorees. Throughout the weekend, cast members of the Producers Guild winning film, “No Country For Old Men,” participated in various capacities. Woody Harrelson presented the Montecito Award to fellow co-star Javier Bardem. Tommy Lee Jones was honored with the American Riviera Award. Josh Brolin had the world debut of his short film “X.”

From the annual honors such as the Modern Masters and Outstanding Performance of The Year, SBIFF created two new awards, the Independent Award and the 2008 Virtuosos, honoring Ryan Gosling for his work in independent films and Casey Affleck, Marion Cotillard, James McAvoy, Ellen Page and Amy Ryan as the new rising stars in film. If that was not enough, the festival also welcomed humanitarian honoree Angelina Jolie and her equally compassionate husband, Brad Pitt.

The Saturday morning Directors on Directing: Director’s Panel was truly “Schnabelicious,” with Adam Shankman of “Hairspray,” Brad Bird of “Ratatouille,” Craig Gillespie of “Lars and the Real Girl,” Jason Reitman of “Juno,” Judd Apatow of “Knocked Up” and the awesome Julian Schnabel of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” delivering a witty and entertaining experience for all who were in attendance. Moderating the panel was Variety’s editor-in-chief, Peter Bart whose banter with the directors made for great comedy, putting the audience in a continuous state of laughter. Julian Schnabel asked his fellow filmmakers if they could do him the favor of never using the word “awesome” in their films again. In response, his fellow panelists deemed the word “schnabelicious” would be the most appropriate word to replace it. The panel’s insight into the filmmaking process provided anecdotes on everything from how to get the money, where the ideas come from, what films work and which don’t, and how their actors moved the story from the page to the screen. The mutual admiration society was obvious, especially when Jason Reitman and Craig Gillespie gave kudos to their leading actors. Although not technically labeled a tribute, the director’s panel certainly paid homage to the art of filmmaking.

The reputation of SBIFF's parties not only matched previous years but successfully surpassed on the level of creativity, mood and ambiance and much to the delight of many, there was not a go-go dancer in sight! The ballerina at the Outstanding Performance of the Year party at The Bluffs brought the intended element of grace and elegance.

This year's bountiful offerings of films, encompassing diverse storylines from around the world with its boldness in topics, only serve to prove that SBIFF is on the pulse of entertainment.

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