The 28th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicked off Thursday night with the U.S. premiere of Disconnect, a cautionary tale about the many things that can go wrong when one spends too much time online, as so many of us do. It is one of SBIFF's stronger opening night films of the last few years -- if also perhaps a bit too long (at 115 minutes) and melodramatic (i.e. a slow-mo sequence), according to some of the 4,400 moviegoers who packed into the historic Arlington Theatre to see it before heading over to the fest's opening night party.
The dark drama, which previously played at the film festivals in Venice and Toronto, receiving a lengthy standing-O at the former, marks the feature narrative debut of Henry-Alex Rubin, whose last film, Murderball (2005), was nominated for the best documentary feature Oscar. A full seven years -- and many successful TV commercials -- later, Rubin managed to assemble a large and impressive ensemble cast that includes Alexander Skarsgard, Paula Patton, Jason Bateman, Hope Davis and Frank Grillo (who, for my money, steals the film), as well as several strong child actors.
Disconnect emulates the structure of Crash (2004), Babel (2006) and other recent films that present several disparate storylines and then slowly reveal how they are, in fact, connected. For those who have been following the ongoing Manti T'eo "scandal," one of its storylines will seem eerily prescient.
The film will be released in select theaters by LD Entertainment on April 19.
The next 10 days of SBIFF will include screenings of 156 films from 49 different countries, including 13 world premieres of 32 U.S. premieres. But the fest's biggest draws are its events celebrating Hollywood talent. Because SBIFF is held each year right around the time that Academy members receive their final Oscar ballots, and because more than 100 Academy members are believed to live in and around Santa Barbara, many Oscar nominees -- or people who hope to be Oscar nominees in the future -- are happy to make the two-hour trek north from Los Angeles to participate in the festival, either as a tribute recipient, presenter or panelist.
Ben Affleck (Argo) will receive SBIFF's Modern Master Award on Friday; best actor Oscar nominee Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) will receive its Montecito Award on Saturday; best original screenplay Oscar nominee Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) will receive its American Riviera Award on Jan. 30; Amy Adams (The Master) will receive its Cinema Vanguard Award on Jan. 31; and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook and The Hunger Games) will receive its Outstanding Performer of the Year Award on Feb. 2.
Additionally, its Virtuoso Awards, which honor actors who distinguished themselves over the past year through breakout performances, will be presented on Jan. 29 to Ann Dowd (Compliance), Elle Fanning (Ginger & Rosa), Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables), Omar Sy (The Intouchables) and best actress Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild).