Film Festival opens SBIFF celebrates 30th birthday at the Arlington

"Desert Dancer" opened the 30th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Tuesday at the Arlington Theatre NIK BLASKOVICH/ NEWS-PRESS

“Desert Dancer” opened the 30th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Tuesday at the Arlington Theatre
NIK BLASKOVICH/ NEWS-PRESS

For this 30th year of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival,Tuesday is the new Thursday Moved up two days and extended by one, the 12-day festival looked the same as in years past.

The Arlington Theatre was filled with film lovers and the smell of popcorn.

The streets outside bustled with fans hoping to glimpse a celebrity while searchlights raked the skies, now clear of the storm clouds of the day before.

The stars of the opening night film had come in from places due east, whether that was New York or Europe, or even a little more inland down in Los Angeles. And the consensus was: What a lovely place to have a film festival.

Producer Izabella Miko poses on the red carpet

Producer Izabella Miko poses on the red carpet

From left, cast members Tom Cullen, Reece Ritchie and Freida Pinto join director Richard Raymond on the red carpet.

From left, cast members Tom Cullen, Reece Ritchie and Freida Pinto join director Richard Raymond on the red carpet.

Indeed. The opening night’s film, “Desert Dancer,” told the true story of Afshin Ghaffarian, the Iranian youth who started an underground dance troupe in a country that forbids dancing. A first feature by British director Richard Raymond, it stars Reece Ritchie in the lead role and features Freida Pinto of “Slum-dog Millionaire” and Tom Cullen of “Downton Abbey.”

This family of actors and filmmakers hadn’t seen each other for some time and as Relativity Media, which is distributing the film, arranged with SBIFF to give the film its American premiere, they were much appreciative to be walking the red carpet in 70-degree weather “We went on a hike today to Inspiration Point,” said Mr Raymond.

‘And everyone we met on that hike said they were going to tonight’s festival! We had a lovely chat with so many of them. I have to say, I have no idea why I’m living in L.A. I should move here!”

Though the film has been shown in Germany, Hong Kong and Italy by eager distributors, Mr. Richardson had not gone to those openings because this was the proper launch, he said.

“This is the first time I will see this with a real audience, so I’m slightly nervous. … I’m so grateful to be here.”

Mr. Ritchie was an energetic and fun element on the red carpet, taking selfies and trying to photobomb a few interviews. But for his lead role, he was all seriousness.

“This guy’s story was so potent and visceral and happened so recently that I knew it would be difficult to talk with him,” Mr Ritchie said about working with and then playing Mr Ghaffarian. “But the message of our movie, he knows, is more important than his personal feelings on it.” Mr. Cullen, who plays Mr Ghaffarian’s friend, talked about training, like they all did, under dancer and choreographer Akram Khan.

“I saw one of his shows and it just blew my mind,” he said. “He has extraordinarily high standards. We were good, but he still wasn’t satisfied.

So it was a grueling process, but one of the most rewarding that

I’ve ever had.” Many people recognized Ms. Pinto from her role in “Slumdog Millionaire,” and she took time to sign autographs of the people behind the barricades outside the theater.

“It was so sweet,” she said, to meet her fans. “I’m just glad I have people who buy my tickets. That’s the most important thing. You may think that you’re the only person who makes your career but actually it’s

Director Richard Raymond, left, and actor Reece Ritchie speak to thepress on the red carpet for the U.S. premiere of “Desert Dancer.” the producers, directors and these lovely people.”

The 30th year began with a proclamation read by Mayor Helene Schneider who ouipped thct “You only turn 30 once,” and congratulated the board of directors for putting on such a successful event.

Jeffrey Barbakow, chairman of SBIFF’s board of directors, accepted the award.

Today’s SBIFF features the Richard Attenborough Award for the Cousteau Family and several world premieres. Check www. sbiff.org for details.

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