‘Friends’ made at Santa Barbara fest

'Windhorse,' 'Character' also pick up nods in growing event

SANTA BARBARA — The 13th Santa Barbara Intl. Film Festival closed on a high note, with a record 35,000 in attendance (4,000 more than last year), many sold-out films and a dramatic increase in film talent and industry attendees over past fests.

Sunday evening’s closing-night ceremonies concluded the 11-day festival with the presentation of the awards. The audience’s choice Best of the Fest Award went to Phil Messina’s “With Friends Like These.”

Paul Wagner’s “Windhorse” took the best U.S. independent film honor. The best foreign film win went to “Character,” a Dutch film also up for an Oscar. Wagner and “Character” director Mike Van Diem tied for the best director award.

The best actor and actress awards went to Eusebio Poncela and Cecelia Ross respectively for “Martin (Hache).”

A special jury prize for best screenplay went to Akane Shiratori, Masahiko Kagawa and Toshiharu Ikeda for “The Key.” An outstanding filmmaking special jury prize was awarded to “Journey to Xia Empire,” written and directed by Lu Wei.

Rogier Stoffers picked up Fujifilm’s best cinematography award for his lensing of “Character.” “The Farm” grabbed the Bruce C. Corwin Award for best documentary. “Titsiana Booberini” won the best short prize, while “One Divided by Two” won the best animated short.

The Peter Stark Screenwriting Award went to Scott Spaulding and Byron Stone for “Drawing Life.” Their prize includes $5,000 plus an intro to a Hollywood agent. The second Peter Stark prize (includes $3,000) went to Steven Manners and Jane Walkers Lloyd for “Black Butterflies.”

Actress Julie Christie was honored Saturday night with a career tribute at the festival.

Following a screening of her 1971 film “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” Christie fielded questions from the audience and former Los Angeles Times arts editor Charles Champlin.

Describing the Robert Altman production as “blissful,” Christie explained, “Vancouver at that time was full of draft-dodgers, musicians and dope-smokers. There were enlightened people all around us, and we just incorporated them into the film.”

“McCabe” lenser Vilmos Szigmond, also on hand for the tribute, fondly recalled working with Christie, despite the less-than-ideal shooting conditions.

“It was winter in British Columbia — dark until 9 a.m. and dark again by noon. The conditions were miserable,” Szigmond said. “But Julie was a joy to work with. She would always get the scene right on the first or second take.”

Currently the subject of renewed interest thanks to her Oscar nominated turn in “Afterglow” (a role for which she also won the New York Film Critics Award), Christie dismissed the assumption that her latest role is a comeback and defended her eclectic choices.

“I’ve always worked,” she explained. “It’s just that I’ve got a bit different taste. The films that I like aren’t necessarily the big American ones. I’ve chosen to work in various countries like Tunisia. Of course, when I shoot films in places like that, they always have me play the bad colonial.”

In fact, as both the current Los Angeles County Museum of Art retrospective “Looking at Julie Christie” and her filmography attest, Christie has continued to work steadily over the past 30 years. From her Oscar winning part in John Schlesinger’s “Darling” (1965) to Hal Ashby’s “Shampoo” (1975) to James Ivory’s “Heat and Dust” (1986), Christie has not been long absent from the screen, even if she preferred an understated approach to fame.

The famously private Christie, whose best roles have managed to embody a combination of warmth and aloofness all at once, waxed ambivalent about her recent resurgence in the public eye.

“Celebrity is a strange thing,” she said. “It’s impossible to avoid. Once you’ve got it, it’s yours for life.”

(Eric Olson contributed to this report.)

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