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Going Beyond the Lens at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

By Erin Lynch | September 10, 2023

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) makes its appearance every February at the Arlington and Riviera Theatres, and other theatres around Santa Barbara. The week-long festival reels in crowds and A-listers from around the world; but what happens off the red carpet? A large portion of SBIFF’s programming happens outside the star-studded events, in fact, much of it is geared toward making cinema and the arts accessible to everyone in the community.

A nonprofit whose mission is to “engage, enrich, and inspire through the power of film,” and a recipient of a Towbes Fund for the Performing Arts Grant administered by the Santa Barbara Foundation (SBF), SBIFF offers programming that stretches from educational to general community engagement opportunities. Some of their most notable programs offer direct access to film-making and mentor-guided learning opportunities.

Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies is a program that brings thousands of local grade-school students to the Arlington for a special screening of the year’s animated film and a private Q&A with the director. Students from diverse backgrounds gain insider access to the world of filmmaking and an opportunity to learn directly from award-winning and renowned directors.

Director Guillermo del Toro | Photo: Courtesy SBIFF

This year, Guillermo del Toro joined as guest director for a Q&A about his film Pinocchio. “Many of the students who attend the field trip are bilingual,” explains Claire Waterhouse, Education Manager at SBIFF, “so to have Guillermo answer questions in Spanish was very special — representation is so important for the students to be able to see themselves on stage.”

For young teens who enjoy filmmaking, SBIFF offers a Summer Film Camp where students can get to create their own film with help from award-winning professionals such as David and Sandy Wasco of LaLa Land and Pulp Fiction. The week-long Film Camp offers attendees an opportunity to collaborate with fellow campers in writing and directing their own short films.

SBIFF loans campers iPhones and MacBooks so they can be creative with equipment they may already have. “We want to show them that they can make a film at any time,” Waterhouse continues, “and we want to encourage them to tell the stories they want to tell.” One camper this year based her film on the true story of a family member’s adoption. As the week of Summer Film Camp closes, the campers’ short films are exhibited to family and friends.

SBIFF also offers more dedicated filmmaking programs, such as the 10-10-10 Mentorship & Competition, a five-month-long filmmaking mentorship for high school or college students. This program connects aspiring screenwriters and directors with industry professionals to guide their creation of a 10-minute short film that will be previewed at the end of the Film Festival.

“I had never written a screenplay before, but I loved writing,” notes Aija Mayrock, a previous mentorship participant, “and 10 -10-10 showed me that I had potential. And masters of the industry believed in the raw, unpolished, grain of talent they saw within a 15-year-old.” Mayrock went on to use her film to apply for New York University’s screenwriting program and has since graduated. She is also a best-selling author.

The Film Studies Program provides a four-day packed curriculum to college undergrads granting priority film festival access to panels and seminars, and unlimited access to SBIFF films and Q&A sessions. Another SBIFF program, the Rosebud Program, provides undergrads with college credit toward their degrees.

In the interest of making film festival programming accessible to the community, SBIFF partners with Easy Lift for Silver Screenings. Silver Screenings allows transit-dependent senior citizens an opportunity to view films with free transportation, concessions, and much more. Additional no-cost programs are available to the public at the Arlington and Riviera theaters year-round, and their schedules may be accessed via their respective websites or social media pages.

Since its founding 35 years ago, SBIFF has advanced the notion that films – like art – are not meant to be exclusive. With the help of festival attendees, volunteers, and donors, they will continue to serve the community for years to come.

To learn more about SBIFF’s year-round programs, visit

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