Saturday, January 31, 2009

One More Tribute To Go

The red carpet for Friday night's tribute to director David Fincher was a mellow affair, especially in comparison to the night before when Clint Eastwood was honored.

Not as many fans lining up to view the arrivals. Not nearly as many teaming masses in the press pit fighting for position. Indeed there was room to stretch out and even to move to a better vantage point.

Actor Jake Gyllenhaal showed up and did the stroll, but for me, the highlight of the posing and posturing that characterizes these red carpet events was the appearance of Taraji Henson, who is up for an Oscar this year for best supporting actress for her role as Queenie in the Fincher directed film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

That's me interviewing Taraji Henson on the red carpet

Photo Credit Chuck Cagara

Henson also appeared in the 2005 film Hustle and Flow. Her presence on the red carpet and connection to that movie gave me the opportunity to ask her a question that I had long wondered about:

"Where you as shocked as I was when "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" (which is on the Hustle & Flow soundtrack) won the Oscar for best song?

"Yes I was, absolutely," she replied.

I followed up with a more serious question, asking whether when she read the script for Benjamin Button did she have any inkling that her role would be one with the potential for an Oscar nomination.

"No," was her answer. She thought the script might have Oscar possibilities for others involved in the film, but not for her.

We will see how she fares when the Oscars are handed our on February 22.

But if it turns out that Three 6 Mafia has an Oscar and Henson doesn't, that will be an injustice.

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David Fincher is an accomplished motion picture director. Included on his resume of films are The Game, Fight Club and Zodiac.

David Fincher takes the stage with moderator Pete Hammond.

Photo Credit Chuck Cagara

But it's hard to fill a theater based on his name alone. Film fest staff hit the streets of downtown on Friday and handed 200 or so free tickets to the Fincher tribute. Despite that, there was still room to stretch out in the Arlington on Friday night.

In baseball, they say nobody pays to see the umpire. In movies, no one pays to see the director, unless his name is Coppola, Spielberg or Scorsese.

Jake Gyllenhaal takes to the podium
Photo Credit Chuck Cagara

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As one of the filmmakers pointed out in a question and answer session the other day, the Santa Barbara Film Fest is a good mix of big name stars while still being a showcase for independent films.

How do they manage to get the big names to come and appear at the festival year in and year out?

Several factors come into play.

1. The calendar. Traditionally, the SBIFF starts the two days after the announcement of the Oscar nominations. (This year Oscar nominations were moved back from the traditional Tuesday so as not to conflict with a large celebration that was going on in Washington D.C.) As a result, the festival has become the first stop on the Oscar publicity train.

2. An eye for performances. As Film Fest publicist Carol Marshall observed, Roger Durling, the SBIFF's executive director, has an "impeccable sense" about movies. He gets out to the other festivals, often sees movies before anyone else does and recognizes the great performances. Coupled with Marshall's connections in Hollywood where there are only six degrees of separation (everyone knows everyone else, or at least knows their publicist) they are able to target who to pursue for the festival.

3. The audience. Santa Barbara not only is convenient to Hollywood, it is also an enclave of members of the Motion Picture Academy in its own right. Roughly 200 Academy members make their homes in the Santa Barbara area. Making the trip to Santa Barbara for the film fest offers an opportunity for nominees to reach a lot of voters at one time.

And taking a lesson from politics, nominees and the marketing departments of studios that promote their Oscar pushes know the importance of a grass roots campaign. Politicians make the trip to Iowa and New Hampshire in the winter because they know that shaking people's hands and looking them in the eye pays dividends in votes.

What Iowa and New Hampshire are to the presidential primaries, Santa Barbara is to the Oscar race.

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My Film Fest picks for Saturday.

Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times. (8:15 am Metro 4) I saw this movie early in the week and it is excellent. At two hours in length, it moves much faster than many shorter films.

Green from the Ground Up (10 am Victoria Theater) A film depicting the process and choices available to build or remodel using "green" environmentally friendly products that simultaneously improve efficiency and save money.

Producer's Panel (11 am Lobero) Hollywood movers and shakers discuss the business.

The Country Teacher (1:30 pm Metro 4) Roger Durling himself recommended this movie to me.

Art & Copy (4 pm SB Museum of Art) Everyone I've talked to who has seen this movie loves it.

Mickey Rourke receives the American Riviera Award (8 pm Arlington Theater) I should be easy to find tomorrow night. I'll be the guy eating crow in the lobby of the Arlington immediately prior to the presentation.

A complete list of Film Fest screenings and events is posted here.