The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) started on Jan. 31 with a screening of its opening film titled “The Public,” written by, directed by, and starring Emilio Estebez. The writer-director, plus the cast of the film — Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, Michael K. Williams, Jacob Vargas and Che Smith — made an appearance on the red carpet.
“The Public” takes place in Cincinnati, Ohio. The city is plagued by cold temperatures, and the homeless shelters are at full capacity as a result. Estebez plays Stuart Goodson, a librarian who decides to take matters into his own hands by leading a sit-in within the public library along with a homeless man named Jackson.
Goodson’s coworker, Myra (Jena Malone), district attorney Josh Davis (Christian Slater), detective Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin), and Stuart’s building manager, Angela (Taylor Schilling) are all caught up in the whole scheme too.
I was fortunate enough to ask Estebez a question before he went inside in the theater for the premiere.
What was your favorite scene to direct, and do you have any advice for aspiring directors?
Emilio Estebez (EE): “Any scene that I direct in which I’m working with a big group of actors is preferred. I cut my teeth with ensemble films like “Outsiders,” “The Breakfast Club.” So I love big groups of actors because it’s sort of a playground for me. And this is an ensemble film. But as far as directing, it’s like being a conductor in a symphony. So directing a bunch of actors, you have all these different instruments, different players. It’s about knowing when to tap into that. You know, you play that part and you play that part. Anyway, you’ll know what scene is my favorite.”
Jurors for the festival and the cast and crew of other films that premiered at the festival also walked the red carpet. I briefly spoke with director Heather Tom. She mentioned how she was proud to be a part of this “new wave” of female directors.
If you could make a biopic of any powerful woman, who would it be?
HT: “There’s so many. Honestly, this might be a little surprising, but I worked with Hillary Clinton on both of her campaigns and I got to, you know, see her and witness her one-on-one. She’s deserving of one, so if I were to make one, she would be my choice.”
After the red carpet, Executive Director Roger Durling introduced SBIFF with a statement. He talked about the ongoing debate as to whether the festival would continue as planned due to the Thomas Fire and the mudslides that occurred in the Montecito area and elsewhere. However, Durling concluded that continuing the festival would provide an important and welcomed escape for the community.