Monday, May 30 , 2016, 5:04 pm | A Few Clouds 64º

SBIFF Honors Forest Whitaker with Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film

Actor shares his insight on the importance of his film 'The Butler,' during an elegant evening serving as a fundraiser for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

By Melissa Walker, Noozhawk iSociety Columnist | @NoozhawkSociety |

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the event.]

The new year brought the first big Santa Barbara International Film Festival event to the Bacara Resort & Spa on Sunday night, providing guests and donors with a final opportunity to assist with funding for this year’s festival while also honoring Forest Whitaker with the eighth annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film.

A large crowd dressed in black-tie attire gathered at the posh location for the award presentation that served as a fundraiser for the 29th year of the festival, scheduled to run Jan. 30 through Feb. 9.

“Film teaches us about other perspectives and gives us insights that we can’t get otherwise,” said SBIFF sponsor Lynda Weinman of “We attract the best and the brightest to the film festival, and we just believe that we should give back and so we support them.”

Whitaker is the first African American recipient of the award. Previous recipients of the Kirk Douglas Award were Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Quentin Tarantino, Ed Harris, John Travolta and the award's namesake, Kirk Douglas.

A red carpet entrance kicked off the event with the Academy Award-winning guest of honor, who was joined by two actors linked to his career who would also serve as presenters and speakers on this special night — Angela Bassett and Michael B. Jordan.

Bassett, of Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Malcolm X fame, was effusive of her opportunity to work with Whitaker on the 2013 holiday musical Black Nativity.

“Working with Forest is complete and utter joy," she said. "It’s a thrill to show up on the set every day to look in his eyes, to learn from him, to observe him, to bounce off of him in scene. It’s amazing.”

She elaborated on the importance of Whitaker’s role as Cecil Gaines in Lee Daniels’ The Butler for the black community.

“Any film that shows our unique value and contribution, to show those are very important because we contributed in big ways, small ways, quiet ways, subtle ways, complex ways and there’s value in every human being,” Bassett said.

Known for his work in The Wire and Friday Night Lights, Jordan is the lead actor in Fruitvale Station, a movie that Whitaker helped produce with Significant Productions, a Los Angeles-based company founded with the goal of raising people’s consciousness.

Jordan emphasized the messages that he hopes audiences will take away from Fruitvale Station

“Hopefully people walk away from the film after seeing it and think about the way we treat each other and how it is to walk a mile in our shoes," he said. "You know, you can’t just read a news clip or a newspaper article — it’s more than that. We’re human, and I think we’re viewed as less than human a lot of times as a young black male.”

The presentation began with SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling welcoming the crowd as he introduced this year’s Kirk Douglas Award winner, who was handpicked by Douglas for his film skills and humanitarian efforts. 

The event was previously planned for last month but was rescheduled when Whitaker attended Nelson Mandela's funeral service in South Africa in December. Whitaker is well known for his humanitarian efforts and is the founder of PeaceEarth Foundation and the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation.

A montage of clips showcased more than three decades of Whitaker’s work, with films such as The Crying Game, The Color of Money, Platoon and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

Whitaker told Noozhawk about the preparation that was needed to make The Butler in order to capture different time periods and moments.

“I was dealing with a drama that had to chronicle a time and a period, and I wanted to know also everything that was going on outside — not in the script, but outside that was in the world," he said. “At the same time I needed to understand what it was like to be a butler and understand not just the serving process and all that but also the mental state and thoughts and processes, as well as to try and understand what it means to age — to allow your experiences to be carried with you because you can see those in your eyes.”

He discussed the importance of making the film and the important message it provides to many black youths today who are unfamiliar with their history, “and I think they need to see that and reconcile where we are and where we come from.”

Whitaker also drew a parallel to the places his character travels in the film to find social justice and how this journey can lead to a change.

“The kids can become aware of their own power and understand that there’s so many different ways to activate and to change the society that they live in and that they have the power,” he said.

The ever popular and growing Santa Barbara International Film Festival attracts more than 75,000 people to town, spanning 11 days with more than 200 films, symposiums and panels for producers, women, directors and writers.

An impressive set of eagerly anticipated tributes and awards will be hosted again at the Arlington Theatre with another year of inspiring and legendary names, starting with Cate Blanchett on Feb. 1 receiving the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award.

SBIFF’s commitment to local cultural diversity includes a variety of programs benefiting local youth with a variety of free children’s education and community outreach programs that benefit more than 16,000 residents each year, including Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies, AppleBox, 10-10-10 Student Screenwriting and Filmmaking Competitions, 3rd Weekend and SBIFF College Internships.

Check back with Noozhawk for more on the film festival and special coverage of the tributes and awards.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.