A-listers put film festival on the map

SANTA BARBARA — The 21st Santa Barbara Film Festival concluded its 11-day run Sunday with a slew of awards presented before the closing-night unspooling of Jason Reitman’s “Thank You for Smoking.”

Fest generated the most attention this year with a host of in-person appearances via onstage conversations with the likes of George Clooney, Naomi Watts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger, James Cameron, Robert Towne, Maria Bello and Felicity Huffman and panels devoted to producing, directing, screenwriting and composing.

Attendance exceeded the 100,000 mark, with the audience award voted to Christian Carion’s “Joyeux Noel,” the inspirational French Oscar nominee about a momentary WWI truce at Christmas.

The American Spirit Award for a non-Hollywood independent film went to Christopher Jaymes’ “In Memory of My Father,” about three brothers tangling with the legacy of their legendary film-producer father. Prize carries a $60,000 camera package from Panavision.

A Special Jury Award was presented to Radu Mihaileanu’s French drama “Live and Become,” about an Ethiopian Jewish boy starting a new life in Israel in the 1980s.

The Gold Vision Award for a film with an “inspiring and groundbreaking vision” was shared by “Night of the Dog” — a tale of six friends and one insane night that tests their friendship, directed by the Six (Peter Atencio, Michael Patrick Burke, Jeremy Catalino, Peter Donovan and Eshom and Ian Nelms) — and “The Hamiltons,” directed by the Butcher Brothers. Latter is a story with many themes including gore, violence, sex, torture, cannibalism and family values. Each will receive a film distribution package of $30,000, sponsored by York Entertainment.

Gavin Hood’s “Tsotsi,” from South Africa, copped the international feature prize, while Spanish helmer Manuel Martin Cuenca’s “Malas Temporadas” (Bad Times) took the Nueva Vision award for Spanish and Latin American film.

Pippa Scott’s “King Leopold’s Ghost,” about the legacy of Congo-plundering 19th-century Belgian monarch Leopold II, took the documentary prize. The Santa Barbara Social Justice Award for a docu on social issues went to “Sisters-in-Law,” directed by Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto, which looks at the fight for women’s rights in a Muslim village in Cameroon.

Jamin Winans’ “Spin” snared the Bruce Corwin Award for live-action short as well as the BAFTA/LA Award for short film under 10 minutes, while the Corwin animation prize went to Josh Staub’s “The Mantis People.”

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