Deluge of film : Storms don’t dampen festival opener

Actress Abigail Breslin, co-star of the movie “Definitely, Maybe,” talks to the media during the walk on the red carpet at the Arlington Theatre on Thursday night.

January 25, 2008 7:45 AM

Torrential rain may have flooded the streets of Santa Barbara, but they did not deter the 23rd annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival from celebrating its opening night with a star-studded ceremony.
With an entire block of State Street closed down in front of the historic Arlington Theatre, fans and press waited, not for limos, but for a VIP tent to produce stars onto the red carpet.
The festival, which runs through Feb. 3, hosts 215 features, including 21 world premieres, numerous shorts, nightly awards and tributes honoring some of Hollywood’s most exciting actors and actresses, themed mini-festivals of genres like sports and nature documentaries, and panels of directors, producers and writers.
“This I what I envisioned five years ago (when I started), that we’d be an ‘Oscar’ festival,’ ” director Roger Durling said. “I’m having an out-of-body experience right now.”
The opening-night film, “Definitely, Maybe,” starring Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin, is a romantic comedy about a father explaining his relationship history to his daughter on the eve on his impending divorce. Both Mr. Reynolds and Abigail (“Little Miss Sunshine”) walked the red carpet, talking to fans, posing for photos, and answering questions, along with co-stars Derek Luke and Liane Balaban.
“Most of the scenes with Reynolds and Breslin take place in her character’s bedroom,” said director Adam Brooks, who also appeared and introduced his film. “So we set up a very cozy, nice place for her to work. Abigail is a very focused actress. She has enormous powers of concentration.”
Also spotted on the red carpet Thursday evening: actress Shohreh Agdashloo and actor Dennis Franz. The former, who starred in “House of Sand and Fog,” also sits on the festival’s panel of judges.
The death on Tuesday of actor Heath Ledger hung over the festival, as only two years ago the actor, fresh off his Oscar-nominated role as Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain,” received the Breakthrough Performance of the Year Award. In his introduction to the event, Mr. Durling spoke to the audience about the 28-year-old’s sudden passing.
“We have lost a member of our family,” Mr. Durling said. “Please let’s honor him for what he gave us . . . he gave us art.” With that, Mr. Durling announced that this year’s festival would be dedicated to Heath Ledger’s memory.
As they did last year, the celebrity invitations announced at the beginning of the year mirrored the Oscar nominations that were announced this month. Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Ellen Page and Julie Christie have all earned Best Actor and Actress nominations; Casey Affleck, Javier Bardem, and Amy Ryan received Best Supporting Actor and Actress nominations (as did Mr. Jones and Ms. Blanchett, for different films). All seven will be in town during the festival to receive awards.
“We must have a little magic crystal ball,” said Mr. Durling, noting that invites to the Santa Barbara festival typically go out in May — long before Oscar nominations are announced. “The gods are looking after us.”
Two films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, “Mongol” and “The Counterfeiters,” will also screen at the festival. Last year, a popular festival favorite, “The Lives of Others,” went on to win that Oscar .
After the film, the opening night festivities spilled out into the still-tented street and Arlington foyer for a party. While the streets in the immediate vicinity were in blackout mode — thanks to a storm — the festival still had enough backup juice to keep the party going.

©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

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