By Jules Crosby

Thirty undergraduate students from across the country recently spent an extended weekend in California participating in this year’s highly selective Santa Barbara International Film Festival Film Studies Program. Jules Crosby, a motion pictures major in the screenwriting track, was chosen for this experience where he was granted access to the festival’s screenings, panels, seminars, and other experiential events that provided learning and networking opportunities outside of the classroom. The University of Miami School of Communication provided funding in support of Crosby’s representation of the school in the Film Studies Program. Below, is Crosby’s first-hand account of his experience during the program.

My name is Jules Crosby and I had the tremendous honor of attending the 38th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), as one of thirty students from across the nation that were selected into the festival’s Film Studies Program.

My festival experience began with a dedication to Angela Bassett, the recipient of the festival’s Montecito Award for her acting contributions over her near 40-year career. Ryan Coogler, the director of “Black Panther” (2018) and its sequel “Wakanda Forever” (2022), presented Bassett with the award after a touching speech.

With over 200 incredible short and feature films on the festival schedule, the viewing options were limitless at SBIFF. My two particular favorite movies were David Mesfin’s documentary “Wade in the Water” (2023) and Zia Mohajerjasbi’s drama film “Know Your Place” (2022). Both films addressed Black agency over space in their own way. “Wade in the Water” provided incredible, historical context about Black folks’ relationship with water and surfing culture, and “Know Your Place” delivered a nuanced examination of gentrification and its tragic ramifications on the East African community in Seattle. I particularly enjoyed watching the independent films at the festival, because the directors and producers seemed even more eager to discuss their artwork with film enthusiasts after the showing. One of the most memorable experiences of the program was connecting with Mohajerjasbi after I had seen his film and diving into all of its subtextual meanings and layers. I even got to snap a photo with him and my friends!

The program continued to surpass my expectations. We would later see Cate Blanchett presented with the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award for her irrefutably stellar performance as Lydia Tár. She was presented that award by none other than Todd Field, the writer and director of “Tár” (2022). Field would sit on both a writer’s and producer’s panel later in the week, shedding insight on his process and approach as a filmmaker. We got to hear from fellow Oscar-nominee Jamie Lee Curtis too, the recipient of SBIFF’s Matlin Modern Master Award for her cinematic accomplishments.

My favorite part of the Film Studies Program were the numerous panels we had the opportunity to observe, featuring some creators that I had never fathomed getting the chance to meet in person. All of the producers, writers, and designers (both costume and sound) were all Oscar nominated this year. How SBIFF managed to pull off such an incredible feat still boggles me… I was able to listen to some of the greatest cinematic artists of our time talk about their passion, from the renowned costume designer Ruth Carter, to Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner, and even Nobel Prize for literature recipient Kazuo Ishiguro.

After the producers’ panel, I got the chance to walk up to the stage and compliment Jonathan Wang on his snazzy A24 socks. Wang co-produced “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (2022), a strong contender for one of my personal favorite films of last year. Wang was so kind and warm, taking my comment about his socks and turning it into a 10-minute conversation, in which he graciously gave out his info to the other aspiring filmmakers still huddled around. And of course, we had to get the photo to document the moment.

SBIFF made it their priority to provide us with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We even got to eat lunch with Daniel Scheinert, one half of the incredible duo that wrote and directed “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” That doesn’t happen every day.

The access afforded to students through this program is wholly inexplicable. It’s been two weeks since I’ve landed back in Miami and I still can’t process it all. I would consider the program to be a resounding success, and give SBIFF direct credit for reinvigorating my passion in film.

I recommend this program to all film enthusiasts and those looking to connect with filmmakers and designers in a close, intimate environment. Thank you to Roger Durling, the executive director of SBIFF, for the opportunity. And a huge shoutout to Claire Waterhouse, the education manager, for the extensive programming. I’ll never forget this experience!