Martin Scorsese Saluted by Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Pacino at Santa Barbara Film Fest Gala

Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese, Al PacinoKirk

Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Pacino saluted Martin Scorsese‘s dedication and risk-taking at his Santa Barbara International Film Festival tribute, while the filmmaker spoke about the importance of “individual artistic expression.”

More than 300 people attended the black-tie gala on Thursday night in Scorsese’s honor at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Santa Barbara, where festival exec director Roger Durling asked, “Can you think of another director who remained so relevant for so many decades?”

That fact was punctuated with generous clips (assembled by Mike McGee) of the filmmaker’s work, including a sizzle reel with dozens of film moments that demonstrated his wide range since his 1973 breakthrough with “Mean Streets.”

In presenting the Kirk Douglas Award to Scorsese, DiCaprio said, “One of the most remarkable things about Marty is the generosity that he exudes to everybody on the set. He treats every one of us as a real collaborator and he really wants to hear what you have to say as an artist.”

Pacino added, “As an actor, he makes you feel safe and that’s important because you always feel vulnerable. You’re a tightrope-walker and he’s the net.”

Scorsese wrapped the evening by praising his colleagues’ “commitment and dedication to the art form, which is rare. And please don’t take these things for granted. Because today some people think these qualities can be replaced by algorithms, formulas and business calculations. But there is no substitute for individual artistic expression.”

On the red carpet before the gala, Scorsese laughingly told Variety he is frequently asked about Marvel these days “because I brought it up!” But he said his comments, which originated last month in Empire magazine, were inspired after hearing criticisms of streaming services like Netflix by people who were claiming to defend the sanctity of the theatrical experience. “And I thought ‘Which theatrical experience?’ The studios are making the (formulaic franchise) films and they’re edging out all the younger filmmakers. Some of those big films are done beautifully — but there is a problem of marginalizing personal films that can enrich people’s lives. That’s all I’m worried about.”

“The Irishman” has been playing in theaters since Nov. 1, and will debut on Netflix Nov. 27. “Irishman” features a screenplay by Steven Zaillian from the book by Charles Brandt. As DiCaprio said, “What’s astounding about this film is that Marty transcends his own signature genre, and creates a film that methodically transforms itself into an exploration of our own universally shared mortality.”

Pacino worked for the first time with Scorsese on “Irishman,” which is a hot contender in the Oscar race this year. DiCaprio has made five features with Scorsese, from “Gangs of New York” to “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

The 35th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival will take place Jan. 15-25, 2020. The fest has become a key stop for awards hopefuls every year. It’s earlier than usual, following the awards calendar shift due to an accelerated Oscar voting schedule, when Oscars nominations will be announced Jan. 13 and the ceremony will be Feb. 9.

Lynda Weinman, president of the SBIFF board, admitted to Variety that the date change “is an extra challenge.” But, she added with a smile, “We’re up to the challenge.”

The Santa Barbara Intl. Film Festival last year attracted 90,000 attendees and offered 11 days of 200-plus films, tributes and panels.