Of Oscars and
SBIFF Achievement Awards

By Madelyn Ritrosky
Entertainment Magazine

Photo right: Al Gore by Madelyn Ritrosky.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which helped ring in the month of February, is now a festival that anticipates the Academy Awards.

With Oscar nominations announced in late January and the awards handed out in late February, the SBIFF, which ran January 25-February 4, 2007, pinpoints and spotlights potential nominees.

For the festival’s five special achievement awards, it turns out that three were given to eventual Oscar winners this year – four were nominated.  In addition, these events always feature one or two introducers or award presenters who have worked with the honoree.

This year there were two who were Oscar nominees themselves – one who became a winner. 

Photo left: Helen Mirren by Madelyn Ritrosky.

Helen Mirren was given the Outstanding Performance of the Year Award and now has the Best Actress Oscar in hand for her portrayal of Elizabeth II in The Queen.

The film’s screenwriter, Peter Morgan, was nominated for his script and introduced Mirren that night.  He told me that Mirren had already expressed interest in doing the proposed film before he actually wrote the screenplay.

Thus, he knew exactly who to envision as the Queen.  William H. Macy, who worked with her in Door to Door, presented the award that night.

As a woman who sees keenly the more limited opportunities for women than men in acting, Mirren said, “My early roles were peripheral, but women always were – still are – to a great extent…. And the mythological sexualized woman is demonized, or there’s the virgin/whore where the woman has to be one or the other.”

Maybe Helen Mirren, with Oscar now in hand, can continue to make small dents, like Calendar Girls, in conventional representations.

As we know, Forest Whitaker took the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance as another real-life figure, dictator Idi Amin, in The Last King of Scotland – which Peter Morgan also wrote.  At the beginning of February, Whitaker was honored in Santa Barbara with the Riviera Award.  Sandra Bullock, who was directed by Whitaker in Hope Floats, presented it to him. 

Photo right: Forest Whitaker by Madelyn Ritrosky.

When I asked Whitaker that night about his directing career in light of his current acting acclaim, he said he is putting directing on hold for perhaps a couple of years.  Now is the time to see where he can take his acting, which comprises much more of his career at this point than does the directing.

The other Santa Barbara award recipients to garner Oscars Sunday night were Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim for their renowned documentary feature on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth.

As a team, they received the David Attenborough Award for Excellence in Nature Filmmaking from the SBIFF.  James Cameron, who received that award last year for his deep sea documentaries, presented the award this year.  Just like Leonardo DiCaprio did on Oscar night, Cameron only half-jokingly asked Gore about running for president again in 2008.

In Santa Barbara, Gore got several standing ovations.  The sold-out crowd agreed when he said, “It took our country way too long to reach the gag threshold with the Bush-Cheney administration.”

He joked that with the DVD, “we played around with alternate endings.  One had the President waking up and getting it.”  His later remarks were more serious.  “We are at a fork in the road.  Right here.  Right now….  It is a planetary emergency – the challenge of our time.”

Photo left: Bill Condon by Madelyn Ritrosky.

Although Bill Condon, writer-director of Dreamgirls and recipient of the Montecito Award in Santa Barbara, was not nominated for an Academy Award this year, one of his award presenters was – and won.

Jennifer Hudson, who was among hundreds who auditioned for her acclaimed role in Dreamgirls, presented the Montecito Award, together with co-star Anika Noni Rose, to Bill Condon.  With her very first film role, Hudson now holds a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. 

Condon talked about the difficulty he encountered getting Gods and Monsters as well as Kinsey produced, both of which he wrote and directed.

He said that “everything good that’s happened came from Ian McKellen agreeing to do Gods and Monsters.”  Still, Kinsey, which came out six years later, was not an easy sell.  But Condon persisted because he felt Alfred Kinsey “had a revolutionary idea – that we are all individuals.  Real freedom comes from who I am – not from some group.”  Condon told me that his next project, which doesn’t exist yet, will be yet another writing-directing effort.  

Photo right: Will Smith by Madelyn Ritrosky.

The fifth achievement honoree at the Santa Barbara festival was Will Smith.  Although he did not win an Oscar this year, he was nominated for Best Actor for his portrayal of yet another real-life figure, Chris Gardner. 

Gardner, whose inspirational rags-to-riches life story was the basis for The Pursuit of Happyness, gave a heartfelt introduction that night in Santa Barbara, and Tom Cruise presented Smith with the Modern Master Award. 

Smith is a great spokesman for the power of creative visualization and positive thinking. 

He said, “If we dream something, that is a physical thrust into the universe.  We’re going to command the universe to what we want it to be.  You’ve got to believe that you can be happily married for fifty years to do it.”  His philosophy put him right at home playing Chris Gardner, who espouses similar beliefs about life.   

The Santa Barbara Film Festival has scored well presaging the Academy Awards via its own well-timed, special achievement awards.  The SBIFF did even better than in 2006, when it scored three out of five for Oscar nominees and two out of five for winners.

Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and George Clooney were all nominated for acting Oscars, with the latter two, of course, winning them.    

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Photo above: Sandra Bullock at the 2007 Santa Barbara International FIlm Festival by Madelyn Ritrosky.

Photo above: Peter Morgan by Madelyn Ritrosky.