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SBIFF: The Santa Barbara International Film Festival


With awards season in full swing, SBIFF 35, the 35th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, is sure to help locals celebrate all things cinema without leaving town, and will give visitors another reason to experience world-class Santa Barbara.

Copy of an ad for the SBIFF by Cristal Clarke with the logo

Starting on January 15 through the 25th, SBIFF returns with hundreds of screenings, tributes, and panels honoring films and filmmakers of note throughout the star-studded 11-day affair.

This year’s festival features 47 world premieres and 71 U.S. premieres, from 50 countries. Residents and visitors alike are invited to attend tributes featuring the year’s top talent, panel discussions, and free community education and outreach programs. A full schedule of showtimes and show-stopping events is the perfect place to plan your own personal film crawl. But before you go there, check out the hottest, not to miss events for the 2020 season:

  • Opening Night Film, US Premiere of A Bump Along The Way
    Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theatre, Wednesday, January 15 at 8:00 pm

    Directed by Shelly Love and starring Bronagh Gallagher, Lola Petticrew, Mary Moulds, Dan Gordon and Brendan Farrell, A Bump Along The Way is female-led, feel-good, comedy-drama set in Derry, Northern Ireland. The movie follows a middle-aged woman whose unexpected pregnancy is the catalyst for her to finally take control of her life and become the role model her teenage daughter needs and craves.

  • Montecito Award Honoring Lupita Nyong’o
    Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theatre, Monday, January 20 at 8:00 pm
    The Oscar Award-winning actress will be honored for her contributions to the industry,  including her most recent exceptional delivery in Jordan Peele’s Us.

 “Lupita is a ferocious performer, gifted with both boundless appeal and precision,” SBIFF festival director Roger Durling said in a statement. “We are a huge fan of everything she’s done and remain in awe of her double performance in Us. We’re giddily rolling out our red carpet for her.”

Past recipients of the Montecito Award include Melissa McCarthy, Saoirse Ronan, Isabelle Huppert, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah Winfrey, Daniel Day-Lewis, Geoffrey Rush, Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet, Javier Bardem, Bill Condon, and Naomi Watts.

  • Cinema Vanguard Award Honoring Laura Dern
    Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theatre, Tuesday, January 21 at 8:00 pm
    This tribute was created with the intention of honoring actors with the tenacity to forge new ground in their craft. 

“Laura (Dern) is one of cinema’s world treasures and one of the Festival’s favorite actresses,” said Durling. “Her career has been extraordinary – and continues to surprise us over and over again. We celebrated her father Bruce Dern in 2014, so it’s particularly special to salute her at the 35th edition of our festival, making it the first time a father daughter duo has been honored.”

  • Maltin Modern Master Award Honoring Brad Pitt:  Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theatre, Wednesday, January 22 at 8:00 pm

Brad Pitt is being honored for his longstanding contributions to the film industry, most recently in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood from Columbia Pictures and Ad Astra for New Regency. The legendary Leonard Maltin will return for his 29th year to moderate the evening.

SBIFF Award Winner Brad Pitt

“Brad Pitt wears the mantle of ‘Movie Star’ with good grace,” states Maltin. “He’s been giving great performances for several decades, but he makes it look so easy that I fear he’s been taken for granted. After the one-two punch of Ad Astra and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, this year he’s an ideal choice to be presented the Maltin Modern Master Award.”

The festival will also present tributes to a number of awards contenders including, Renée Zellweger, Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Taron Egerton, and Florence Pugh, all expected to make an appearance at this year’s event.

Featuring Local Talent

Just like in previous years, several festival films being featured at this year’s SBIFF reflect the heritage of Santa Barbara and community talent. In fact, the festival’s closing night film on Jan. 25 is actually a series of short documentaries from local filmmakers. The selection covers a variety of iconic people and places along California’s Central Coast, including immigrant farmworkers, a female cyclist who defied the odds, backpackers exploring the Los Padres National Forest, artists documenting our breathtaking landscapes, a celebrated local guitarist who performs in parking garages and public spaces throughout downtown Santa Barbara and more.

Free Screenings

There are also several free screenings at the Riviera Theater including:

  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
    January 31, and February 1, 9:00 PM
    As a bass guitarist for a garage-rock band, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) has never had trouble getting a girlfriend; usually, the problem is getting rid of them. But when Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) skates into his heart, he finds she has the most troublesome baggage of all: an army of ex-boyfriends who will stop at nothing to eliminate him from her list of suitors.
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire
    Sneak Preview, February 12 – 7:30 PM with additional showings TBA from February 28 – March 6
    The winner of a coveted Cannes prize and one of the best-reviewed films of the year, this film will transport you to 1760 France. Marianne is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse, a young woman who has just left the convent. Because she is a reluctant bride-to-be, Marianne arrives under the guise of companionship, observing Héloïse by day and secretly painting her by firelight at night. As the two women orbit one another, intimacy and attraction grow as they share Héloïse’s first moments of freedom. Héloïse’s portrait soon becomes a collaborative act of and a testament to their love.


The SBIFF, a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts organization, is dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Today, the event has grown to become one of the leading film festivals in the United States. Every year, more than 95,000 people attend the festival which now offers 11 days of 200+ films, tributes, and symposiums. All this to fulfill the organization’s mission to engage, enrich, and inspire the Santa Barbara community through film.

If you’re planning to attend the Santa Barbara International Film Festival – whether you’re a local or a film buff from out of town considering moving to our incredible community — I invite you to explore Montecito, Hope Ranch or any of Santa Barbara’s upscale communities via my website, then call me at 805.886.9378 or email me at Once you get here, you won’t want to leave!


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