Winners announced at 30th Santa Barbara International Film Festival presented by UGG® Australia

Text and photos by Oliver Carnay

Santa Barbara, CA (February 7, 2015) -- The 30th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG® Australia, announced the winners of the 2015 festival competition at a Press Conference and Brunch Saturday morning at the Fess Parker – A Doubletree by Hilton Resort. The festival’s 30th edition proved once again that SBIFF consistently presents truly exceptional films, spanning many genres, generations and topics and even surpassed years past. This year the fest welcomed more filmmakers and attendees than ever before, and provided a fare that was embraced and celebrated by cinephiles from around the globe.

Commented Executive Director Roger Durling: “Audiences were treated to the most innovative and daring collection of films in our 30-year history, which is reflective of Santa Barbara’s eclectic and informed film-going community. We were thrilled by the response to this year’s slate, which was further enhanced by new sidebars, such as Cinematic Overtures, which featured films dealing with performance and dance, hence the opening night film Desert Dancer and this year’s audience choice winner.”

The esteemed jury for the 2015 SBIFF included: Director and cinematographer Will Eubank, director Peter Chelsom, producer Chaz Ebert, actors Anthony and Arnette Zerbe, composer/lyricist Adam Guettel, actor James Read, SBIFF founder Phyllis de Picciotto, director/actor Perry Lang and producer Mimi deGruy.

The Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema, given to a unique independent feature that has been made outside mainstream Hollywood, went to Bang Bang Baby (US Premiere), directed by Jeffrey St. Jules and starring Jane Levy, Justin Chatwin, Peter Stormare, and David Reale about a small town teenager in the 1960s who believes her dreams of becoming a famous singer will come true when her rock star idol gets stranded in town. But a leak in a nearby chemical plant that is believed to be causing mass mutations threatens to turn her dream into a nightmare. Winner received a Panavision camera package worth $60,000.

James Read, along with Will Eubanks judged the Independent category, commented that it was a tough call, but Bang Bang Baby was like “Lynch meets Hairspray. Original, cool underlying metaphors, visually very interesting, some really neat performances and sometimes very touching…a unique vision.”

The Audience Choice Award, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Independent, went to the New Zealand film Hip Hop-eration (US Premiere), directed by Bryn Evans. The film follows a troupe of courageous, yet cheeky, senior citizens on an extraordinary quest to perform at the World Hip Hop Championships in Las Vegas.

The Best International Film Award went to Belgium’s All Cats Are Grey (Tous Les Chats Sont Gris) (US Premiere), directed by Savina Dellicour and starring Manon Capelle, Bouli Lanners, Anne Coesens, and Dune de Braconier. a moving film about a teenage girl who hires a detective that may be his own biological father. Adam Guettel and Mimi de Gruy chose All Cats are Grey because “it is quietly told but cohesive and compelling. The three leads are entirely real in their circumstances.”

Best Documentary Film Award went to Children of the Arctic (US Premiere), Switzerland, directed by Nick Brandestini. At the Arctic edge of America, five Native Alaskan teenagers strive to be both modern American kids and the inheritors of an endangered whaling culture.

Said jurors Phyllis de Picciotto and Chaz Ebert, “We chose Children Of The Arctic because this extraordinary film about five Native Alaskan teens in Barrow, Alaska, the northern most community in the United States is important and timely. Every aspect of their daily lives, family history, customs, language, way of life and the environment that sustains them is at great risk of extinction. Nick Brandestini's portrait of the current lives of these teenagers and the decisions they have to make about their futures took us far away from the average cities in America to tiny towns in Alaska and helped us understand a very real gap in culture and values. Children Of The Arctic should be shown everywhere, including high schools and colleges.

The Nueva Vision Award went to Happy Times (Tiempos Felices) (US Premiere), from Mexico, directed by Luis Javier M. Henaine and starring Luis Arrieta, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Humberto Busto, Iván Arana, Miguel Rodarte, and Bárbara de Regil. In this quirky romantic comedy, Max, unable to break up with his girlfriend, hires an agency that specializes in ending relationships.

Best Eastern European Film Award went to the feature film "Monument to Michael Jackson" (Spomenik Mejklu Dzeksonu) directed by Darko Lungulov. A man desperately wanting to save his marriage as well as hoping to bring life to the community plans to replace an old communist monument with a statue of The King of Pop - Michael Jackson.

The first time for this category, which spotlights Santa Barbara Filmmakers and documentaries that highlight community issues, the Santa Barbara Features Award, presented by COX Communications, went to Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey, directed by Scott Teems and featuring Hal Holbrook, Sean Penn, Annie Potts, Martin Sheen, Emile Hirsch and Robert Patrick. This documentary presents an intimate portrait of actor Hal Holbrook, whose celebrated portrayal of Mark Twain has spanned over 60 years in film, television and theater.

The Bruce Corwin Award for Best Live Action Short Film Under 30 Minutes (left photo with director Michael Goode and lead) about a man who's a car crash victim gets the answers to his questions about his life, immediately after his death. Peter Chelsom, who along with Perry Lang judged the short films, commented that The Answers “might be considered by some to be a little 'commercial-like' and I would agree with that up to a point, but the fact is, for me, is that it was extremely well made and there must have been a good script behind it (you don't just 'find' those moments!). It touched me. I feel that among all the short filmmakers, this filmmaker is most likely to make features. And that's important. It's such a tough business that you have to be realistic in that regard. It was so well crafted. The compression was very good. The fact that it was under seven minutes might be a lesson to some of the others.” (right photo) "Life After Pi" directed by #ScottLeberecht won Best Documentary Short Film. Rythm & Hues Studios, an L.A. based visual effects company won an Academy Award for "Life of Pi" two weeks after declaring bankruptcy.

The Bruce Corwin Award for Best Animation Short Film went to LOAD from Israel directed by Niv Shpigel and Robert Moreno. Sinking under the weight of his own memories a man confronts yhe question: Is our past more important than life? What would we give up to keepp on going?

The Fund for Santa Barbara Social Justice Award Sponsored by The Fund for Santa Barbara for a documentary film that addresses social justice issues went to A Snake Gives Birth To A Snake (US Premiere), directed by Michael Lessac. When South African actors tour war-torn regions around the globe they reflect on their homeland’s violent past, its impact on the world and their individual capacities to heal and forgive.

The 30th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG® Australia, concluded with the US Premiere of Niki Caro’s McFarland, USA starring Kevin Costner and Maria Bello. And as a special treat, the film was preceded by a performance of the Oscar-nominated song “Lost Stars,” performed by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois and band.

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