Q&A with Rodger Durling

filed in Behind the Scenes


Take a sneak peek into the Santa Barbara International Film Festival through the eyes of Executive Director, Roger Durling. Not familiar with Mr. Durling? He’s the head honcho that’s been at the helm for nearly ten years. The guy that makes just about everything run during the Film Fest (with the exception of manning the popcorn machine). The Panama-raised, Fellini-fanatic practically grew up in a movie theater watching triple features while his mom was at work. That being said, if anyone gets movies, it’s this guy.

Roger Durling

— ONE —

What sparked your love of film and all things cinema?

When I was very young, I grew up in Panama, born and raised.  We were of very modest means.  We lived nearby a movie house that would show triple and double features — it was a way for my mom to go to work and keep [us] baby-sat, basically. She would leave us at the movie theater, and trust us with the staff, and so she would look for those double and triple features, the long features — and we were safe. Since I was a little kid — I loved being taken to the movies. Going to the movies was a haven, it meant air conditioning and staying in all day watching movies. You’ve seen the movie Cinema Paradiso? That was the way I saw it — my mom would take us obsessively each day and weekend.


— TWO —

SBIFF is entering its 28th year — how has the festival evolved over the years and what in your mind makes this festival unique amongst the crowded Hollywood awards season?

It’s my 10th edition. It started as a very small community event. Most people didn’t know about it, and I think most locals didn’t know about it. In ten years, [it] has grown in stature, and grown in relevance. I haven’t done much tinkering with the skeleton of the festival. Ten years ago, I shifted the dates [to award season] — I understood that in order for a film festival to be successful it needed to have a very strong identity. I understood that a festival in Santa Barbara was a great destination, and I knew the proximity to Los Angeles. It had all the makings of a great festival. [And] In order for a successful festival to thrive, it needed the support of the community. I needed the infrastructure of the hotels, and…restaurants. In order to get their help — I need to make the festival vital for them to get something in turn. If you have a festival in town in April, May, June — that’s the spring — when they are at their most busy. But if you look at [late] January…right after the holidays it’s quiet and now they are looking forward to festival coming. And Hollywood sees our relevance, and importance, as well. The key was…the different sidebars, the different films that are shown are a reflection of Santa Barbara. [Everything] from surf films, to quirky things like nature films, to a major social justice component, and Latin American films. The festival should be a reflection of Santa Barbara — and it should be very specific to our community. The more specific I made it — the more universal it would become to people from the outside. I never saw my audience as a national audience, I always want to keep my locals super-crazingly engaged. Like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams — “if you build it, they will come.”



We need some help picking our film schedule for the week — what under-the-radar films are your favorite selections of this year’s festival?

I would encourage everyone to think outside the box. Try something new and different. On the safe-side, you can never go wrong with the panels. On the first Saturday, there’s a movie called No which was nominated for the Oscar for best foreign film — it’s from Chile. Both the director and the star, Gael Garcia Bernal, will be there and…it’s one of the highlights.  I think that Latin American section is very strong. The Foreign Film section is incredibly strong. This year we have the Nation Section, which is also particularly interesting. Whatever you like in movies, there is something for you.


— FOUR —

Each year, SBIFF honors some of the best individual performances in film from past year — can you speak to the selections of Daniel Day-Lewis, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lawrence, and Amy Adams?

Daniel Day Lewis is the greatest actor working today, I wanted him the year of There Will Be Blood and he turned us down. I started asking in early in March — DDL in particular is special. I’ve always had an admiration for him ever since my beautiful long dread and room with a view, his early work. He’s going to win the Oscar for Best Actor, and he’ll be one the few to ever win an Oscar three times. Jennifer Lawrence, is the rare combination of innate talent and true charisma. She is a throwback to old Hollywood, they were nimble in comedy, they were nimble in drama — she reminds me of Carol Lombard and of Claudette Colbert.  She’s the true thing — I think the word star is used very lightly, everyone is a star. If all the actors we hear about are stars, she’s a supernova. Amy Adams has been nominated four times for best supporting actress and The Master is one of my favorite films of the year, people either hate or love it. Her performance…she is the master, she’s the one manipulating all the men around her, even though she has a small part. We all know her from Enchanted, Doubt and the Fighter and this is quite a departure for her — this performance. Ben Affleck not only acted, directed, produced Argo — he seemed to do it all, wearing many hats.  I love second chances, I think its so big in the American dream. Part of nature in the US, he has such huge success at a young age — winning the Oscar and becoming a star — and then we couple him with the Jennifer Lopez debacle. And now he’s a respected director who just won the Golden Globe.


— FIVE —

If you were speaking to someone just beginning their cinematic journey — what five films would you recommend as their foundation blocks?

I teach film at Santa Barbara City College, they would definitely have to see a western. They would have to see John Ford, The Searchers.  It’s the foundation of great American cinema. Taxi Driver was based on the Searchers, Star Wars was influenced by the Searchers, even something like Django Unchained was influenced by the Searchers. I would introduce them to Fellini, [he’s] my biggest poster in my office. He’s my favorite director of all time.


Fellini poster

I would play them Drive, with Ryan Gosling, and get them hooked up in something exciting and modern. And of course, I would have to play Manhattan. I always in my 101 class, play them Manhattan. And if not Annie Hall and introduce them to Woody Allen. And you have you sit through a horror film, my two picks would be Rosemary’s Baby or The Shining.


— SIX —

What are some iconic soundtracks we should download immediately to our iPhones?

There are so many, I was talking about Drive. The Drive soundtrack is one of my favorite soundtracks ever — but that’s music supervision not scoring a movie. When it comes to a score, Ennio Morricone, who has scored Quentin Tarantino [Kill Bill, Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained], had done all classic Spaghetti Westerns. He did the Good, Bad, and the Ugly [quickly riffs on the theme of the film], he has so many scores.



If we were to make a film of your life — who would you want cast in the lead role?

Javier Bardem. Because he is one of greatest actors. He’s quite a mimic and he’s one of my best friends. I adore him. He’s my age and he would understand how to play me … he’d be totally comfortable in my skin. And he already does a mean interpretation of my voice.



What are some of that factors that going into making Santa Barbara such a thriving arts community?

It’s a combination of infrastructure and destination, and the fact we have these great venues. The location is really important. You want repeat customers, you want people to come in the summer because of Fiesta. They love the town, they want to keep coming back. We have UCSB Arts & Lectures at Campbell Hall, the Granada Theater, the Lobero Theater, the Arlington Theater, the Santa Barbara Bowl. It’s a thriving downtown where you can easily walk to the venues to see art, go to dinner, walk around in the evening. The average tourist doesn’t come in for just one event, they come back multiple times a year. People really support the arts in this town. I have friends from New York who ask me “don’t you feel like you’re living in a provincial town.” I’m like “are you kidding me? I can barely keep up!” One night we have the Black Keys the next Friday we have William Shatner.


— NINE —

Are there any Santa Barbara hot-spots that are a must-visit when I’m not taking in films?

I always go to Marquee for a cocktail, it’s my go-to place with staff and for business. It’s got a nice vibe and it’s quiet. I love Cielito, I really like the food and atmosphere. I can’t believe it’s only been around for two years, but it really feels like Santa Barbara. Olio y Limone is my favorite restaurant to eat at.


— TEN —

What do you order when you catch a film?

A big bucket of popcorn and a big thing of water. I don’t like soda, but definitely one big bucket of popcorn. I don’t ever start eating the popcorn until the movie actually starts … I wait for the studio logo, like Fox Searchlight, then I can start. It drives my partner crazy, because he’s already finished it by the movie starts. If we share a popcorn, I’m like “you have to save half for me.”

The 28th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival runs from January 24th-February 3rd. For more information on the celebrity tribute evenings, movie screenings, and panels please visit their website.


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