The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is the oldest and largest film festival in the region, and it’s gearing up for its biggest year.
The 35th SBIFF runs from Jan. 15-25. During the festival, celebrities like Brad Pitt, Laura Dern, Lupita Nyong’o and Renee Zellweger are coming to the South Coast to accept awards, and more than 200 films will be shown.
The number of films has stayed the same but the amount of people coming out to see them is getting higher.
SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said for the first time in the film festival’s 35-year-history, entire categories of passes are sold out, and they were snapped up more than a week before the festival even started.
“It bodes well for attendance,” Durling said.
More than 90,000 people attended the SBIFF in 2019, and Durling expects at least as many people to attend this year, even though the festival is a few weeks earlier than it normally is. The festival starts after the Academy Awards nominations have been announced.
In 2019, the nominees were announced on Jan. 22, and it’ll go back to around that time in 2021, but in 2020 the academy held the voting earlier, naming nominees on Jan. 13.
For restaurants and hotels, the earlier start means there’s no time to rest.
“You’re going to have the one-two punch of the holiday season and the film festival,” Durling said.
Hotel Santa Barbara is ready for the challenge. The hotel has been part of the event from the beginning, and Marketing Director Jennie Jacobs loves how the atmosphere changes when the festival’s going on.
“It’s like a dynamic energy in our lobby all day,” Jacobs said.
As the official hub of the festival, Hotel Santa Barbara sees a lot of traffic from the event and the hotel’s 75 rooms fill quickly.
Hotel Santa Barbara’s meeting rooms also come into play. One room becomes a passholder lounge, where people can relax and get a cup of coffee between screenings. Filmmakers pick up their materials in another.
Thousands of people will be streaming into and out of Hotel Santa Barbara on a daily basis, during a time which would otherwise be sleepier after the holidays.
“This time of year, it’s really great to have that kind of action,” Jacobs said.
Hotel Santa Barbara is one of many businesses looking forward to the bump in revenue film festival visitors are set to bring.
Up and down State Street, storefronts have the festival’s signs in their front windows, and there’s a lot of money up for grabs.
Last year, the film festival earned almost $3 million. That number doesn’t come close to accounting for the regional impact in hotel stays, dining out or general shopping the visitors did while they were in the area.
The attention the festival brings is crucial for everyone in the region, said Anna Jacobson, a spokeswoman for Visit Santa Barbara.
She called the festival “the major event of the winter,” and said it highlighted Santa Barbara’s history as a film production center while adding to its current glamour.
And with the impact SBIFF has on the economy, it’s no surprise other cities in the tri-county region, like Ojai and San Luis Obispo, started their own festivals. Santa Barbara also holds two other film festivals, the Call-to-Action Film Festival and The Wave Festival, later on in the year.
“(SBIFF) is highly important as an economic generator,” Jacobson said in an email. “Each year, SBIFF generates significant publicity for its film festival … helping to position Santa Barbara as a world-class destination.”
Contact Amber Hair at [email protected]