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SBFF Report: Directors Panel and A Tribute to Nicole Kidman.

More photos of Kidman at JustJared

Festival director Roger Durling interviewed Ms. Kidman for over an hour, with film clips in between and several montages set to pop songs like Katy Perry’s Firework (Perry is a Santa Barbara native, it’s worth noting). By selecting moments throughout Kidman’s many varied roles, while avoiding the way the critics have shaped her career path, allowed us, I think, to see the different dimensions of the actress emerge.

This tribute, of course, is a way of bringing publicity and attention to Kidman’s latest, Rabbit Hole. It is a beautiful performance, one of her most moving. She seems to have found the real rabbit hole for grief — her holding it together is more heartbreaking than her tearing apart. Can Kidman win this year? Best Actress seems to be in the bag for Natalie Portman.

Meanwhile, the early part of the morning the SBFF held a directors panel, moderated by yourtypicalacademyvoter Peter Bart. The participants were, from left to right, Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Charles Ferguson (Inside Job), Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), David O. Russell (The Fighter), and Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3).

Peter Bart annoyed me from the outset. He was kind of funny in parts, like he asked them why they don’t just get up to the mic and say what they really feel, or expose the truth of the thing, like “My publicist put me here and that’s why I’m winning.” So that was sort of a refreshing read of the race. But in the end, the answers weren’t any more revealing than the question. They can’t say what they really think. That would be a PR disaster. I’m sure they are half-thrilled, half-horrified to be part of the clusterfuck that is the Oscar race.

He also dogged David O. Russell pretty hard, I thought, trying to get some kind of admission or reveal about O. Russell’s notorious behavior, brought up Christian Bale, etc. O. Russell looked perplexed at times but mostly didn’t take the bait.

I did like how Bart tried to draw the shy Ms. Granik out. She’s a talented filmmaker who isn’t used to this kind of exposure. Next time she’s up there it will be easier, I feel. She did great, though. And her work speaks for itself. Same thing for Mr. Ferguson, who was a bit shy and withdrawn. Unkrich was great too.

The two chatty Cathys in the group, the ones with the most charisma and charm were by far Aronofsky, who all but stole the show, and Tom Hooper who did equally well. They riffed a bit on how they’d been doing the awards thing so long they could almost give each others’ speeches. “He’s doing me right now,” quipped Hooper.

Hooper was humble and sweet – but also funny. Aronofsky was engaging all the way through, drawing laughter and applause. He told a great story about the Venice film fest and how he was seated next to an 80-ish Italian dignitary and his wife and how they’d gotten a ten minute standing ovation. He sat down next to them, with Natalie Portman to his left. And he said she said something like “I smell like my dog’s anus.” Just before the film started he leaned over to the Italians and said “I apologize for what is about to happen.”

They covered Oscar campaigning, how it’s important not to take any of this seriously but to keep it focused on the work, you know, the usual. Hooper told a story about The King’s Speech testing very well during the editing phase (“I knew I wasn’t going to have to edit it much”) and how Laura Linney had come to Telluride to see the film. After one of its many standing ovations to come, Linney sat down with him in a coffee shop and told him that everything was about to change. “What you do mean, Laura?” He’d asked her. Now, he said, he finally knows what she was talking about.

Of them, only O. Russell seemed to be genuinely honest about how grateful he was for this. O. Russell has it in perspective more than anyone else on the panel because he is the only one who knows what it’s like to be hot one minute and not the next. He knows how quickly it can all come and go. He said to Hooper that it’s nice to have such adulation and that it’s important to pick a good project next. He also said that the money would be nice. I appreciated that moment, though it seemed to be lost on Mr. Hooper who just isn’t in that mind-frame yet – he being successful already with John Adams and The King’s Speech. But O. Russell, he’s looked into the abyss and had the abyss look back at him.