SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — After a pandemic-delayed run last year, it seems Santa Barbara's annual film festival is continuing its "show must go on" motto with an in-person format in line with COVID-19 protocols.

What You Need To Know

  • The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is a nonprofit dedicated to discovering and showcasing independent and international cinema

  • The 11-day festival began in 1986, and this year's programming features films from 54 countries

  • The 2022 festival kicks off March 2 with "The Phantom of the Open" starring Sally Hawkins and closes March 12 with "Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over"

  • SBIFF is known for its A-list appearances and honors leading up to each year's Academy Awards, as well as its film studies program for undergraduate students

The 37th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicks off March 2 and includes at least 200 selections from 54 countries around the world.

"We had a record number of film submissions this year," said Claudia Puig, programming director for SBIFF. "We had about 5,000 films submitted. So apparently, people were making movies during the pandemic."

Santa Barbara has been home to the 11-day international cinematic event since 1986. Following a wave of COVID-affected virtual festivals across Southern California and cancellations due to the recent omicron surge, this year's SBIFF is entirely in-person.

"I think we're all pretty starved for [it], eager to return to normalcy, and to just spend time with each other in a more communal setting, and just enjoying the company of other people, especially over something artistic," said Puig.

Official events — including screenings, filmmaker Q&As and industry panels — will be held throughout the city. Besides these expected festival components, one feature that distinguishes Santa Barbara's event from others is its film studies initiative.

"It’s a program that brings undergraduate students from all across the country for this three-day symposium," Puig said. "And they get to interact with filmmakers."

Another distinguishing aspect of SBIFF is its star-studded crowd, with some of this year's Oscar nominees receiving various honors amid the countdown to the 94th Academy Awards — which just announced that some categories won't be televised.

Penélope Cruz, Will Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch, Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem are just some of the A-listers who will be on-hand in Santa Barbara to be recognized for their recent on-screen efforts.

Beyond the pre-Oscars buzz, Puig is particularly excited about certain newer films preparing to make their debut in Santa Barbara. These include:

  • "Our Words Collide," focusing on inner-city teens in Los Angeles who share a common passion for poetry
  • "Only in Theaters," a story about the family behind LA's historic Laemmle cinemas
  • "Pasang," centered on the first woman to climb Mount Everest
  • "Havana Libre," which highlights the fight to legitimize surfing in Cuba

"What surprised all of us was how many films were submitted because we thought the pandemic will maybe affect the number of films, but it didn’t seem to," said Puig.

SBIFF is just days away, with tickets and passes still available for purchase. For more information on the program at large, please visit here.


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