The Santa Barbara International Film Festival has a new home at the Riviera Theatre, part of a big-picture plan that includes more educational and family programs year-round.
The site, built in 1926, will become the main hub for the festival, which will continue to schedule programs and screenings at downtown venues. The fest runs for 11 days in February, and has become a key stop during Oscar campaigns.
SBIFF will be the new lease-holders of Riviera, taking over from Metropolitan Theaters. The Riviera will still carry first-run features — it’s one of the city’s primo art-house venues — but the festival will have priority as it schedules more programs.
The fest targets underserved youth and families through such offerings as AppleBox Family Films and Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies. Other events will continue at the Riviera Theatre, including three year-round programs: Cinema Society, the Rosebud Program for Film Students and the Wave Film Festival (the mini-fest that will be increased to three times per year). The Showcase, which features innovative independent films, will move to the Riviera from its current location, Plaza de Oro.
SBIFF also offers free programs like its 10-10-10 Student Filmmaking and Screenwriting Competitions, National Film Studies Program, 3rd Weekend and educational seminars. In recent years, SBIFF has expanded its year-round presence with regular screenings and Q&As with programs like Cinema Society, the Showcase and its Wave Film Festivals.
The Santa Barbara Fest, which began in 1980, attracts more than 90,000 attendees. In recent years, it’s become increasingly important on the awards calendar, since the fest is held around the time of final Oscar balloting. Among the fest honorees who ended up in the winner’s circle on Oscar night this year were the “Spotlight” team, Alejandro Inarritu, Adam McKay, Brie Larson and Alicia Vikander.
The Riviera was part of University of California, Santa Barbara, when the campus was located in the hills near the Santa Barbara Mission. It will be renovated, including new seats, acoustical upgrades, improved ventilation, structural fixes, enhanced lighting, a new screen and projection system and new sound system.
“As we enter our 32nd year, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has cemented itself as a part of our great city’s history” stated Mark Scher, president of SBIFF and owner of the Scher Investment Group. “We believe a long-term home at the Riviera Theatre is a pivotal point in the evolution of SBIFF and will allow us the opportunity to greatly expand our programming and bring a real cultural center for film to the Santa Barbara community.”
The decision to make the Riviera the new home was unanimously approved by SBIFF’s board of directors. The lease was negotiated by Scher and board members Bob Brada and Eric Phillips, Jeff Barbakow with Michael Towbes and the Towbes Group.
“We are very excited to provide this new home for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the Riviera Theatre”, stated Michael Towbes, chairman of The Towbes Group. “Over the years we have brought the Riviera campus to an entirely new quality level. The historic significance of the campus, dating back to its locating on the Riviera in 1913, makes it a very special place for me and the Santa Barbara community. The upgrades which SBIFF plans to make to the theatre will complete the campus improvements which we began some 40 years ago. They will greatly enhance the audience experience and honor the legacy of the building.”