Talk with Roger Durling, SBIFF

By Daniel Chein.

After enjoying the first few days’ worth of films, our class met Roger Durling, the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. In our discussion, I learned some very interesting facts about the way film festivals are organized. The Santa Barbara International Film Festival takes the entire year to plan. Acquiring films to screen at the festival is the most obvious aspect, but the most important thing each year is securing a major sponsor- without one the film festival would not be possible. This year, UGG Australia sponsored the festival, donating tens of thousands of dollars to the organization. Besides the major sponsor, Roger also maintains connections with local, media, and corporate sponsors who give recurring donations every year.

When Roger took over as Executive Director 10 years ago, the film festival was poorly organized and was barely making ends meet financially. Roger understood the business aspect very well, and took the necessary steps to improving the festival and making it as popular as it is today. First off, he knew that the festival needed an identity. Being so close to the industry, he brought in high profile directors, actors, screenwriters, and producers from LA each year which was appealing to audiences. He knew that bringing in celebrities would drive up sales and sponsors. Second, he moved the festival from being its date in June to the first week of February to coincide with the Academy Awards. Panels for directors, screenwriters, and producers were formed and many nominees of that year’s Oscars come and have a discussion about their work. Finally, Roger knew that to make it work, he would have to personally put himself out there to represent the festival and find sponsors. Although he didn’t like it at first, it became easier each year, and now the festival is at the point where sponsors want to support the festival because of its popularity.

Even though SBIFF is a registered non-profit, it operates like a business. Roger has conceived and implemented grand plans that take course over the span of five years. For the coming five years, Roger hopes to rebrand SBIFF as part of the Santa Barbara Film Institute, like the Sundance Institute, San Francisco Film Society, and other festivals have done already. He also wants to expand programming and hire more programmers. By having more programmers, the festival will be exposed to more great films, improving the overall quality of the films acquired to screen. Roger also mentioned that SBIFF is considering adding a couple new sections to the program (i.e. Pan Asia, Latin America, Eastern Bloc, etc.) which would further diversify the selection of films. It is great to know that the organization still has a lot of room to grow. As an executive director, Roger finds an individuals’ qualities more important than their qualifications. He approaches his job in an out of the box way and looks for that kind of character in his employees.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival has a lot to look forward to in the coming years. My only criticism is that I wish the scheduling was a little more spread out- sometimes a film is only shown the first couple days and that is the only opportunity to see it!

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