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It’s Called Range Baby- SBIFF Virtuosos

10 March 2022
  • Written by
    Anna Maria Stump
  • Photographed by
    A. Arthur Fisher

The Virtuosos award night at the Arlington Theatre hosted by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is an iconic representation of “who to watch” as future independent film opportunities unfold for the high-caliber crew that is chosen annually.

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As the powerhouse awardees soak in their red-carpet time, Caitriona Balfe of Belfast shares that this captivating film is one that for many people tugs at their heartstrings, “It resonates at a deeper level,” she shares. “To be at this event,” she elaborates, “it’s a mirror and a window and we are thankful to be here! I can’t believe it. Honestly, it’s been so lovely, because we were an independent film… to be able to carry it forward makes me so, so happy. It’s all a bit mad!”

This is what the Virtuoso awards bring; a vibrant uprising of talent, both sought out and found in some of the most unlikely places!

Simon Rex of Red Rocket approaches the camera and interviewers with an air of ease. “Do I get a trophy?” he asks. He sets the tone of what’s to come as the evening begins. Rex, nominated for best actor, shares that he is simply taking this journey one day at a time and intends to, “ride the wave and stay humble. I’m like a Jewish cowboy.” He is indeed bringing his big personality to the stage.

While the red-carpet scene comes to a close, Alana Haim, Ariana DeBose, Emilia Jones, Saniyya Sidney and Caitriona Balfe stand confidently together as the flash of every camera captures their expressions and delight.

Once on stage, each of the awardees are interviewed individually by Dave Karger. Alana Haim, of Licorice Pizza exclaims while viewing the immense screen above her, “Oh my God. I just saw my Jewish nose on the screen!” The crowd erupts with laughter.

Karger asks Haim, “What is it like to be nominated for this award for a PTA film? “It is a head-spinning moment: everyone’s confidence in me,” Haim shares.

Next to grace the stage is Ariana DeVos of West Side Story. “Check, check, one two. I’m an Aquarius... he asked me if I wanted to be his Ania and that meant a lot to me,” DeVos shares of the moment she was told she was chosen to be the lead for West Side Story. “The gift of knowing I was going to work with one of the most powerful movie makers of all time was incredible,” DeVos offers. “My confidence came from telling the story of a woman's vulnerabilities. That’s Anita’s beauty.”

Caitriona Balfe of Belfast glides across the stage in her eye-catching green dress. “It’s a very personal story to Ken. For each of us, it touches us in a personal way. When the cast and I met, we were all starved of connection. We met with an open-heart. And this made it so special.”

Emilia Jones of CODA takes her turn with Karger, immediately lighting up the stage, speaking directly to the audience with a contagious energy. She openly reveals that while working on the film, CODA (Children of Deaf Adults), “Troy taught me dirty words in sign.” When Karger asks her what she will do with her new Screen Actors Guild award, she shares, “Maybe I’ll hang my jewelry from it! “

With heels as high as her ambition, Saniyya Sidney of King Richard who has been acting for ten years speaks of the first time she met Venus Williams. “She is a Goddess. I mean- GODDESS.”
She goes on to share that she is reserved about “Mr. Richard” watching the film in which she starred. “He is the KING!”.

Simon Rex of Red Rocket casually approaches the mic. “The whole movie happens “because of a happy accident.” Referring to Shaun Baker the Director, “He rolled the dice on me when I couldn’t even get a call back or an audition. He was literally casting from the streets. While he was in Arizona, he opened a porta-potty door and found Brenda.” A collective sigh from the audience occurs when Rex shared, “She never got to see the movie,” speaking about Brenda, who plays his mom in the film and recently passed away.

Troy Kotsur of CODA enters with his translator. “As a deaf actor, I was doing what I love. And this has never stopped me.” Karger asserts, “Let’s talk about the scene from the film, in the back of the truck with Emilia.” Troy remembers, “That night we were running behind schedule, and I was nervous as I knew the importance of that scene. I watched the crew’s expressions, and many left the stage area with tears. I knew we had made something special.”

Now, all Virtuosos grace the stage together. “Would you ever want to make a movie with your family?” Karger asks. One at a time each actor shares their input. Rex, without hesitation shares, “Nope. Do you want me to explain?” The overflowing amount of laughter and connection is felt in every possible way.

“What role would you want to play for any future opportunities?” Karger asks of the unique talent on stage.

Rex shares, “Ernest Goes To Camp. But choosing that could be career suicide.” Rex’s fellow awardees are smiling ear-to-ear.

And when actor Dave Karger asked the eight, uber talented Virtuoso awardees to share a tune that is encouraging during this time of continued world heaviness, Simon Rex of Red Rocket broke out in song; purposefully marring Whitney Houston’s most infamous song, I Will Always Love You.

The reverberation of laughter and lightness washes over the audience and actors alike at the Arlington Theatre. Togetherness. Oh, we have all missed this.

A stage full of limitless talent and an entire theater doubled over in their stadium seats, unhinged by Rex’s humor and wit. “It’s called range and they don’t know about it,” Rex says, pointing to the other actors on stage.

“For the people on the stage who like to sing”, Karger asks, “Is there a song that any of the singers like to sing to cheer themselves up?”

Kotsur signs, “Sure! I’ll go first. John Lennon. Imagine.”

And that’s exactly what the Virtuoso awards do. They allow us to imagine the incredible journey each awardee has taken to arrive at this stage. They allow us to imagine the roles to come for each and every talented actor awarded. And, above all, the Virtuosos allow us to imagine the range of potential that each actor has just begun to crack.

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Santa Barbara International Film Festival photo from State Street