Early Moring. Crowed gathers around barricade fence outside theater

How to Attend the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for Free

By Stacey Ramirez
Web Content Contributor

It’s been a year since I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Santa Barbara International Film Festival(SBIFF) in California. This 11-day festival has taken place every year since 1986. The festival consists of panels, screening, premiers and awards.

But how does an average Texas college student get this opportunity? Not only did I attend the festival, I was given a stipend to fly to Santa Barbara and free accommodations to stay in a hotel right on the beach all courtesy of SBIFF as part of their film studies program.

SBIFF’s Film Studies Program is designed to give college students outside of Santa Barbara the opportunity to attend the festival for a weekend. About 20 college students from across the United States are selected, some as far as Hawaii and Alaska.

I flew in Thursday morning and that night all five of the 2019 Oscar nominated directors were being honored and discussing their films. For two hours I was in the same room with Alfonso Cuarón director of “Roma”, Spike Lee director of “BlacKkKlansman” and more.

six men sitting in chairs on stage inside a theater
Five of the 2019 Oscar nominated directors gather on stage to discuss their films. Photo by Stacey Ramirez.

It was amazing to hear each director talk about their personal journey and what inspired their films. Each director praised and asked each other about their films like starstruck fans. This was only the first night!

We attended a private screening just for the film studies students to watch “First Reform” directed and written by Paul Schrader. If this name sounds familiar, then you probably know him as the screenwriter for “Taxi Driver” which was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Robert De Niro. But not only did we watch the film with Schrader, after the film we had the opportunity to ask him questions about his film as he sat only a few feet away.

Since the program’s goal is also to include more underrepresent groups of people into the film industry, we attended a screening of a documentary called “This Changes Everything”. This documentary takes a look at women’s treatment and roles within the film industry and how they’re taking a stand for equality.

We also attended a panel made up of women with different backgrounds working different careers in film from, sound engineers and animators to actresses. They talked about how they have fought against stigmas in Hollywood to achieve their success. As a woman and a minority who is interested in film this panel was inspiring.

Each night we attend an award ceremony that recognized actors, actress and directors for their work. After a watching clips from their past films each recipient was interviews and ended with a speech. Some of the awards I attended included Melissa McCarthy, Glenn Close, Viggo Mortensen and Rami Malek. Malek even gave our group a shout out.

And although free food is always exciting for a college student, SBIFF went the extra mile. They scheduled lunched lunches with some unbelievable people. That’s why to this day I tell people about the time I had lunch with the producer of “A Star is Born” and “BlacKkKlansman”. Then I tell them how I once when to a cocktail party and met Christopher Lloyd from “Back to the Future”. Last but not least, I mention my red-carpet moment Sunday the last night and how I got a photo taken to remember.

If you want to hear more about the Film Studies program you can watch this video here here.

 If you want to be a part of this amazing opportunity and attend SBIFF next year, you’ll have to wait until fall 2020 when applications open again. You can apply online on their website.

The application consists of two essays. One about how the film studies program will benefit your career. The other is about why film is important to your life. If your accepted and attend the festival, you also write a review about a film screening or a panel you attend.

This year’s film festival 2020 highlights included awards for actor Brad Pitt and actress Lupita Nyong’o. Also recognized was film director Scorsese with actor Leonardo DiCaprio presenting his award.

This was the kind of weekend I will tell my kids about and it changed my life. If you get the opportunity to attend don’t miss out.

Featured image by Stacey Ramirez.

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