February 5, 2015

The American Riviera Awards Tribute ~ February 5, 2015 @ The Arlington

It’s All About Balance


The American Riviera Award was established to recognize actors who have had a strong influence on American Cinema. The two iconic actors honored this night by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival exemplify the spirit of this award.

Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are being celebrated for
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their performance in Boyhood, a film with six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. This is the first time this award has been given to two recipients in its twelve years of existence. According to the night’s moderator, SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling, either of the two could have won the award on their own. 

Rising to stardom in the '90s, both actors were the voice of their generation. Between them they starred in such iconic movies as Dead Poets Society, Reality Bites, True Romance and Flirting With Disaster, all of which epitomize the '90s. Over the course of their respective careers, they have had the opportunity to work with many of the most reputable directors, writers, and actors. Hawke shared that he had seen many actors burn out over the years, not just from drugs and alcohol, but from their creative flame, including the recent loss of Hawke’s co-stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) and Robin Williams (Dead Poet Society).  “I don’t know what it is about creative people and the inability to find balance in their personal life,” Hawke stated, choking up over the memories.

As their careers grew, they both were able to take ownership of their craft and their careers. Arquette was able to use the power of her name to oppose TV executives that wanted her to lose weight for her role on the TV series Medium.  “I simply said 'No'. It didn’t make sense. My name meant enough that I brought power to the show, I didn’t have to make concessions. I am sick of the conversation over weight, we should all be over it.”

All the while, they were making Boyhood. The film has received much acclaim and has done well at the box office, but Arquette was not without her doubts. “How are you, one, going to get the funding for a twelve-year project; two, sell a normal story that has no drama; and three, have actors stay on for twelve years that have no contracts (contracts max out at 7 years).” It was a big risk, but one that paid off.

“Boyhood is a selection of scenes that would have been cut out of any other movie,” claims Hawke. Hawke is most proud of the movie because it normalizes kids growing up in a divorced household. It’s a regular, simple story that replaces plot with time and shows that “regular life is awesome.” According to Arquette, “This movie is low tech, literally shot in time. It shows that audiences are ready for a lo-fi connection.” 
The American Riviera Awards were presented to the two by their Boyhood co-star Ellar Coltrane. During his presentation he said he saw both of them grow as actors, even though he wasn’t aware of it at the time. “Both of you refuse to be ingenuine (sic) to yourselves. Watching you guys here tonight – you never ceased to amaze me.”

Hawke claimed recognition creates an imbalance in one’s universe. But it is good to see two of Hollywood’s most influential actors work so hard towards maintaining that balance.



February 4, 2015

The Outstanding Directors Awards Tribute ~ February 4, 2015 @ The Arlington

A Community of Generals

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To some, movie award season is just a beauty pageant of stars; a time where actors, writers, and directors can compete for the position of top dog of the movie industry. But according to Foxcatcher’s director Bennett Miller, award season, as well as film festivals, are a time to congregate with like-minded people who share your interest and experience in creating movies. Like seeing a fellow general and understanding what he has gone through, and thus bonding immediately. It is a time to meet those whose work you admire, a time to share ideas, and a time to just mingle with your peers.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival adopted this mentality this year, deciding to combine the Outstanding Director of the Year Award with the Directors Panel and honoring five, not just one, of the year’s top directors in one evening at a prime Santa Barbara location, the Arlington Theater.

The directors honored this year by SBIFF are all brave visionaries bringing outstanding and very different stories to the big screen. Directors are a different breed; responsible for creating something from nothing but an idea. To manifest something material and tangible from written words, thoughts, ideas, and visions, takes a very special talent – and obsession. Moderated by Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter, directors Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Laura Poitras (CitizenFour), and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) shared their obsessions Wednesday night.

Damien Chazelle is the freshest and youngest of the tributes.  Chazelle wrote and directed Whiplash, which first appeared as a short before getting funding for a full-length feature. It first gained notoriety at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and has flown into popularity since.  Based on his personal experience at a prestigious band school, it tells the tale of a drummer whose teacher motivated his students though fear. “It was difficult to persuade people that this was something they wanted to sit through. It’s about bullying and abuse,” Chazelle explains. “Inflecting harm on another for art is different than inflecting harm on yourself… It begs the question, does the outcome justify the abuse?” Although he admits he made the teacher more of a monster in the film than he was in real life, he is still terrified of playing the drums to this day.

The most seasoned of the directors, Richard Linklater, has a much different tale to tell in Boyhood. The movie was filmed intermittently over a 12-year period, following the main character from ages 5 to 18. The story is a fusion of Linklater’s memories growing up and his experiences in adulthood. It has to do more with time than with plot. “I feel that it’s real; in our own narrative of our own lives, there is no plot… It kinda happens that way.” It stars Linklater’s daughter, who became bored with the project around age 12 and asked her dad, “can my character, like, die?” Luckily, Linklater declined claiming it would be too dramatic. She was able to complete the project, learning to enjoy the process and the extra income.

Bennett Miller, better known as the “Best Actor’s Director,” is awkward and funny at the same time. His film Foxcatcher, based on the lives of the Schultz’s brothers and multimillionaire John E. du Pont, contains well-known Hollywood stars in roles that stretch their own limitations. Miller received the story from a random stranger in a store that gave him an envelope of newspaper clippings stating “You should be interested in this.” That stranger served as executive producer on the film. Miller is mainly interested in narrative films, the only thing available to him he felt passionate about and that didn’t require permission. As to being the “Best Actor’s Director“, Miller bragged that Brad Pitt claimed it was "most uncomfortable to work with him and not in a good way uncomfortable,” as Miller too struggles, clumsily to achieve the performances he shares with his actors. 

Laura Poitras is the only female, and coincidently, the only documentary director in the night’s tribute. CitizenFour is the documentary of a reporter meeting with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, right after he leaked classified information from the NSA. Snowden sought her out as a reputable journalist not likely to cave into pressure from authorities, not to create a film. She kept her contact under radar and met with legal representatives to assess the risk. Contrary to normal documentary releases, they had no early press releases. The press, public, and government got to see the film at the same time. Poitras stressed that source protection was her utmost concern with this provocative documentary.

The only foreigner in the tribute was director Morten Tyldum, with his first English language film The Imitation Game. According to Morton, the film is about “a gay mathematician that kills himself.” The story is based on the true story of the man who helped solve the Enigma code during WWII, and later committed suicide after he was prosecuted for being gay. Like Chazelle, Tyldum had a hard time realizing a dark concept like this could be a crowd-pleaser. “The characters are relatable… It’s the human aspect of the movie, not the history lesson that is appealing.”

Andrew Davis, director of The Fugitive and the self-proclaimed “guy from back in the day,” presented the awards to the five honored directors. The respect and admiration they shared was obvious as they exchanged comments and tales amongst themselves. It was refreshing to see the directors sitting as comrades celebrating film rather than adversaries fighting for awards. A true community of generals.