A cluster of star power gathered at the Arlington Theatre for opening weekend of the 28th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, with Ben Affleck receiving the Modern Master Award on Friday and Daniel Day-Lewis accepting the Montecito Award on Saturday night.
The presentation Friday began with SBIFF executive director Roger Durling welcoming the crowd as he introduced this year’s Modern Master Award winner.
“It’s an award that goes to a renaissance artist, somebody who excels as a writer, director, producer, actor, and over the past three years he’s proven himself to be one of the best directors working out there today,” said Durling.
A montage of clips showcased more than three decades of Affleck’s work, from Dazed and Confused, Chasing Amy, Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love, Pearl Harbor and Argo. The compilation included an array of make-out scenes, prompting Affleck to quip that, “I’m glad my wife wasn’t here to see this!”
During the presentation, moderator and film critic Leonard Maltin asked Affleck to share his best tip for aspiring new directors. “Wear comfortable shoes,” came the quick reply as the audience roared.
Special guest Matt Damon presented the award to his longtime friend and co-writer of the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting. On the red carpet, Affleck shared with Noozhawk the impact of Damon’s appearance.
“I’m thrilled,” he said. “It’s just nice to be able to have your friendship with somebody overlap with your work, and also a particular honor because I just respect Matt so much as an artist, as a filmmaker, as a writer, as an actor. He’s such a gifted guy and we also try to find ways to be able to hang out given our schedule. This is one of them, so I’m pretty excited.”
Damon also looked excited to be part of the award ceremony. Wearing reading glasses, he spoke dearly of his childhood friend.
“My buddy is without question a great director, and so when I was contemplating this whole master thing I guess the only thing I can say is, please welcome somebody who is undeniably two things: my very old friend and a very young master,” said Damon.
The gracious Affleck accepted the award with another humility.
“It’s an honor to be here accepting this award that says Modern Master,” he said. “I certainly don’t feel like a master of anything, I don’t even feel that modern, I have like a ‘90s greatest hits cassette tape in my car.”
Affleck compared the process of acting, directing and producing a successful movie like Argo to getting married.
“You have to find someone that you’ll still be in love with years and years from now, and I’m lucky to have found both the right woman and the right partners over time to work with,” he said.
Asked by Noozhawk on the red carpet if he’s going to continue acting and directing films in the future, Affleck replied, “I’d like to do both for as long as I can. I’d really like to keep writing and producing as well.”
On Saturday night, another undeniable talent took center stage at the Arlington as Day-Lewis, the Oscar frontrunner for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in the hit movie, Lincoln, accepted the Montecito Award.
Doug Stone, SBIFF board president, got the festivities started by inviting director, screenwriter and producer Michael Mann to the stage. Known for Heat, Miami Vice, Starsky & Hutch, and the movie he directed with Day-Lewis, The Last of the Mohicans, Mann spoke glowingly of the actor’s skill.
“He searches into the soul of a character and he creates within himself the dynamics that will bring forth bold gestures, create complicity and depths. His work impacts upon us with the soul of man like no one else’s can.”
Earlier in the evening, Mann told Noozhawk from the red carpet that, “Daniel’s work is so extraordinary that the term acting doesn’t really apply anymore. It’s something else on a whole different elevated plane.”
Following Mann, Stone introduced the event moderator, the Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Fineberg, who called Day-Lewis one of the most versatile actors around. Fineberg said Day-Lewis made his big-screen debut at the age of 14 in Sunday Bloody Sunday, joking that now “he’s only 55 years old and he’s just getting started.”
A montage of the two-time Academy Award winner’s films confirmed Day-Lewis’ versatility, from a cerebral palsy sufferer in My Left Foot, to an oil prospector in There Will Be Blood, and work in two Martin Scorsese films, an aristocrat in The Age of Innocence, and Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in Gangs of New York.
He said that the script from Gangs of New York lured him back into acting and filmmaking following a five-year break.
“No one’s ever had to sell me anything,” said Day-Lewis. “Anyone who has ever had something of value, knows that it’s of value and doesn’t try to sell it. I’d say that it’s true of everything I’ve ever done and of the directors who have given me these incredible opportunities. They never tried to sell them to me. They didn’t need to. The trick for me is to sell it to myself.”
Whenever the distinguished and reserved actor spoke, you could hear a pin drop in the Arlington as everyone wanted to take it all in. But he also showed a flamboyant side with his choice of neon green socks with black stripes — a bright contrast to his black suit and gray shirt.
When Stone asked him to reflect on why so many of his movies appear to encompass key periods in U.S. history, Day-Lewis’ responded that he’s always had a fascination with the subject — an answer that drew rapturous applause.
Saturday evening was also graced with another special guest presenter, Sally Field, the actress who plays Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, in the Steven Spielberg movie, and who is also well known for her roles in Forrest Gump, Mrs. Doubtfire and Norma Rae.
Field furthered the discussion on how Day-Lewis embraces his characters so thoroughly.
“We the audience forget we’ve even seen him before,” she said. “It’s simply astonishing as though he somehow wrapped himself in silk, hung upside down from a tree, and emerged another human being altogether.”
The captive audience returned the favor and fully embraced the actor who has given so much to film and gets so much from the films. His craft, he said, “inspires a sense of freedom in himself.”
The coming week continues with more films and awards, including presentations to Quentin Tarantino, who will receive the American Riviera Award on Wednesday, and Outstanding Performer of the Year Award recipient Jennifer Lawrence on Feb. 2.
Click here for more information on the Santa Barbara International Film Festival schedule and tickets.