SBIFF: That’s a wrap! SBIFF closes its 30th year with Kevin Costner film “McFarland, USA”

The cast of "McFarland USA" gather for photographers on the red carpet at the Arlington Theatre on Saturday. The film closed the 2015 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS
The cast of “McFarland USA” gather for photographers on the red carpet at the Arlington Theatre on Saturday. The film closed the 2015 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival closed out its 30th year with a sold-out final screening at the Arlington Theatre of director Niki Caro’s “McFarland, USA” helped in no small part by its star Kevin Costner’s appearance on the red carpet.

This Disney film, set for wide release Feb. 20, tells the true story of Jim White, played by Mr. Costner, the coach that came to a small San Joaquin Valley town and created a cross-country team that went on to win at the national level.

Kevin Costner speaks with journalists during the closing night of the 30th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the Arlington.
Kevin Costner speaks with journalists during the closing night of the 30th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the Arlington.

The seven young actors (three from McFarland itself) who play the team in the film arrived on a large, shiny travel coach and spent time making new fans and enjoying the limelight.

The three actors who play the Diaz brothers (“Go Diaz or go home!” is their motto) hung together on the red carpet, trading quips.

McFarland resident Romero Rodriguez played Danny Diaz, the stocky brother who excels at hill climbing by the end of the film. He got the role because he drove his cousin to the audition.

“I didn’t even try out and the next thing you know I was fighting for the role from him. And here I am!” he said.

Johnny Ortiz, who plays Jose Cardenas in the film, got into acting when a life coach came to his school in Highland Park and told him yes, he could follow his dream to become an actor, and showed him how by taking him to film festivals.

After meeting Jon Savage (“The Deer Hunter”), the actor recommended Mr. Ortiz try out for the role. He did so, but had to wait two years to get the call back.

“It was a long time,” he said.

Mr. Ortiz is just about to star in ABC’s “American Crime,” produced by John Ridley of “12 Years a Slave.”

Ms. Caro, whose career started with “Whale Rider,” was happy to see her actors again.

“We finished shooting 18 months ago, so that team that was created for the movie will exist their whole lives,” she said.

Having her film close SBIFF was “perfect for me because I’m an independent filmmaker and always in my soul will be, no matter how many studio movies I get to make. Film festivals have an incredible place in my heart and to close one like this, it’s the best.”

When talking about working with Mr. Costner, Ms. Caro has said that he came to the set “as an actor, not as a movie star.”

Asked to elucidate, Mr. Costner said:

“The quickest way to get anything done is to break the ice of fame and celebrity,” he said. “What’s the point? It doesn’t help a conversation, it doesn’t help you get through your day. … I got into this business because I like the work, I like rehearsal, I like breaking things down.

“The red carpet is one of the more difficult things for me. And when I’m on the set I know what I’m doing. Niki and I both share a similar work ethic and that’s what made it easy.”

Having opened this year’s SBIFF, Mayor Helene Schneider returned to officially close the event.

After Executive Director Roger Durling gave a bilingual speech connecting his life as a Panamanian immigrant to the immigrant stories in the closing film, the festival tried out something new —Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, with a small backing band, performed their Oscar-nominated song from “Begin Again,” titled “Lost Stars.”

Ms. Caro, Mr. Costner, and the seven young actors took the stage, said a few words and, before they left, placed their hands on top of one another in a circle, recreating the pre-race scene in the film, and cheered “Uno! Dos! Tres! McFarland!”

After the film, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival saw out 2015 with a large after-party at the UGG Pavilion, located backstage at the Lobero Theatre.

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