Festival Recap: Santa Barbara Film Festival 2023

By Jason Delgado 

As an avid movie buff, I was excited to attend the Santa Barbara Film Festival (SBIFF) for the first time (which took place on February 8th through the 18th, 2023). The beauty of the films, the stars, Santa Barbara itself, and especially that of the delightful people that I met, exceeded my expectations.

I have been fortunate to travel to a few different places around the world, with Spain being one of my favorites because of the kindness and laid-back nature of the people. I had the opportunity at the festival to sit down with some of the cast and crew of an excellent romantic/drama movie from Spain that I saw at the festival called Ibiza Blue (La corriente). Star/writer/director Jesus Lloveras, producer Ainara Landon, female lead actress Alicia Lorente, and actor Isaac Gallego were all on hand. 

It was a real DIY (Do It Yourself) type of production, with approximately ten people total in cast and crew. The film was shot near the end of 2020, on the barren beaches of Ibiza (they were able to shoot in locations that have never been approved of before due to the small crew). People took on multiple hats, such as Alicia, who did her own makeup for the film. They used natural lighting, which is quite difficult to pull off, and the movie looks beautiful as a result. The film includes a dramatic scene on the beach where behind the scenes, the two male leads were attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes (while nude because the scene called for skinny dipping). Despite this, everyone was able to have a good laugh about it afterwards.

Ibiza Blue is personal for Jesus Lloveras, having experienced some of the tragedy that the characters in the film go through, as well as the uncertain time of the pandemic and lockdown (during which the film was made) making a huge impression that shows through on-screen. The story revolves around a love triangle involving Alba (Alicia Lorente), and two best friends, Carlos (Jesus Lloveras) and Julio (Gonzalo Bouza) who do not know that they are dating the same woman. The acting is top-notch all-around, and there is another twist that ups the drama even higher. I complimented Alicia on her acting in the film, and she replied that it is due to her being a theater-trained actress. There are not many romantic dramas being made by Hollywood these days, but Ibiza Blue (La corriente) is a standout in the independent field.

Speaking of standouts, I absolutely adored the documentary 26.2 to Life. Director Christine Yoo’s film is a fantastic redemption story, documenting the journeys of the San Quentin 1000 Mile Club, with an amazing hip hop soundtrack made by inmates. Yoo’s film gives the audience an intimate look at some of these prisoner’s stories, such as the inspirational Markelle “The Gazelle” Taylor, while they run 26.2-mile marathons around the dirt and gravel-filled prison yard. The heart of the story is that we all make mistakes, but even terrible mistakes should not brand a person for life, because there is good inside of us that makes us capable of turning it around with the right support. I was in tears by the end because this is such a remarkably inspirational message and story that must be seen to be believed.

Another unbelievable story is the quasi-documentary titled: Starring Jerry As Himself. This film is a spy-thriller, but also a true story about how Jerry C. Hsu believes that he has been recruited by the Chinese police as an undercover agent. The cast includes Jerry’s family members, who are all affable, and as the title of the film suggests, Jerry is a true star. I found the movie delightful, intriguing, and heartbreaking all at the same time. 

 

There were so many other films at the festival that are worthy of viewers’ time, such as: 

  • Narcosis – the Netherlands Oscar entry about a family dealing with the intense feelings of loss 
  • Susie Searches – a story about an awkward college student who tries to bolster the popularity of her true crime podcast by solving a local mystery (featuring standout performances by Kiersey Clemons and Alex Wolff)
  • Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection – a new and enlightening documentary about the amazingly talented singer gone too soon 
  • The Lost King – the true story of a shy, middle-aged writer who sets out to unearth the long-buried truth about King Richard III’s life and death, while seeing visions of the King,starring Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed these films and many others, about which you can read reviews at FilmThreat.com. You can also find where to watch them at JustWatch.com, but some may not yet be available to view in the U.S. as of yet, so keep your eyes peeled.

SBIFF also featured 2-hour long awards tributes to various celebrities (many of whom are currently nominated for Oscars) on almost every night of the festival. I attended tributes to Angela Bassett, Cate Blanchett, Jamie Lee Curtis, Brendan Fraser, and the Virtuosos Award, which honored Austin Butler (Elvis), Kerry Condon (The  Banshees Of Inisheer), Danielle Deadwyler (Till), Nina  Hoss (Tár), Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All At Once), Jeremy Pope (The Inspection), Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All At Once), and Jeremy Strong (Armageddon Time). I was able to speak to Stephanie Hsu and Danielle Deadwyler about Comic Con, who both lit up when asked about it. They have never attended but hope to do so one day. Stephanie says to her Con fans, “Thank you for all your incredible costumes. You all are so inspiring. I don’t know how you find things on the internet, the way that you do: admirable.” Danielle said about Comic Con, “You all are wild there! All I see are people in masks.”

The panels reminded me of Comic Con, although these were able to get more in-depth because they covered the star’s entire career thus far, as opposed to focusing on their latest movie. Angela Bassett has an effervescent spirit, Cate Blanchett is a lot funnier than I expected, and both Jamie Lee Curtis and Brendan Fraser are funny and real, as I expected they would be. Blanchett said that she does not care about her legacy, which is quite interesting to me because society and her industry place such importance on it. It makes sense though; why care what others think about us when we’re gone? Let’s be kind to others and enjoy life while we’re here, and let the chips fall wherever they may in terms of legacy.


I also attended an extraordinary writers panel, featuring some of the greats of our time, such as: Daniel Scheinert (Everything Everywhere All at Once), Todd Field (Tár), Kazuo Ishiguro (Living), Rian Johnson (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery), Tony Kushner (The Fabelmans), Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin), Ruben Östlund (Triangle of Sadness), Lesley Paterson (All Quiet on the Western Front), and Sarah Polley (Women Talking). Lesley Paterson told the incredible story of how she broke her shoulder, and then competed and won a triathlon the next day because she needed the money to keep her film option open for All Quiet on the Western Front. Sarah Polley deadpanned to Tony Kushner, “She won,” as others were trying to tell their writing journeys after that showstopper. Ruben Östlund told a humorous Larry David-like story about how he would dread paying for fancy dinner bills when he first met his wife, which led to a blow-up argument, which he in-turn used as inspiration for his film Triangle of Sadness.

I have been reading that ever since the pandemic, movie-going audiences have changed, and have noticed it myself at local theaters. Mature audiences have stayed away for the most part, leading to younger-skewing films by the studios. I was happy to see attendees my age and older out in droves at SBIFF, which felt like such a foreign experience. The people whom I met on the streets of Santa Barbara were all quite kind, generous, and delightful, as were other press members.

Attendees go to these types of events for a multitude of reasons (films, stars, merch, swag), but the highlight of it all ends up being the people whom we meet along the way. It was so much fun celebrating the birthday of actor Isaac Gallego (who plays a priest in Ibiza Blue), along with my new friends from Spain out on the town and meeting a fellow writer by happenstance while with them. The love of film and caring for your fellow human being was in the air, and that’s my favorite kind of place to be. A big thank you to everyone involved. Until next time, Santa Barbara!

Jason Delgado

Jason is a CSULB film school alum and movie guy for Friends of Comic Con. He loves movies, TV, writing, comics, going to Cons, basketball (Lakers), music (all forms of rock + 90's hip hop), football (Chargers), his dog, and most importantly wife and newborn son. He's written a comedy/sci-fi script, and wants to write more in between raising a son. He doesn't often cosplay, but when he does, it's as Iron Fist. Follow him on Twitter @JasonDelgado78

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