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Todd Field & Martin McDonagh Win SBIFF's Outstanding Directors Award

20 February 2023
  • Written by
    Jennifer Strube Bochsler
  • Photographed by
    A. Arthur Fisher
Todd Field (Tár), Martin McDonaga (The Banshees of Inisherin)
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As the red carpet graced the entrance to the Arlington Theatre, Oscar-nominated Todd Field (Tar) and Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin) took center stage to receive the Santa Barbara Film Film Festival’s Outstanding Directors Award. Each year, this award is given to distinguished directors in recognition of their brave cinematic and poetic successes. In an evening moderated by Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Fienberg, the audience received an intimate conversation with two directors on the power of the director/actor bond.

“Our jobs are subtractive,” commented Todd Field, “It’s what you don’t do.” After directing 6 actors to Oscar nominations, most recently Cate Blanchett in Tar, Field’s directing goal is to create an environment where the actors are the main focus.  “After cut is where you make the film. The actor and director are people in conversation. It’s a dialogue… and Cate’s formidable and a very exciting dance partner.” Cate Blanchett is well-known for her relentless preparation for her roles, arriving on set for Tar with the entire script memorized including stage directions, after which she learned proficient German, piano, and conducting.

As a child, Field himself was a budding jazz musician and originally went to school on a music scholarship, but later pivoted to the American Film Institute. Acting as both writer and director, Field’s past work includes the award-studded filmography of In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006).

“We are in the pretend business. This is not a documentary. There has never been a chief female conductor of any major German orchestra ever; Tar is a fairytale. As a fairytale, it means to do this one particular thing—look at power.”

In a similar vein, Martin McDonagh’s Inisherin is a fictional Irish locale, a hybrid of Ireland’s Aran islands where McDonagh spent his childhood summers. As both a playwright and director, McDonagh directs his films as rehearsals, talking endlessly through the script with his actors. “The connection between a director and an actor trying to solve everything together… that’s directing,” McDonagh said. 

McDonagh has directed 7 actors toward Oscar nominations, including Banshee’s Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, two actors he chose because of their symbiotic relationship. “I knew Colin loved Brendan and Brendan loved Colin,” remarked McDonagh. This love was the perfect stage for their Banshee’s break-up, set in the 1920s during the Irish Civil War. “It’s one civil war with the backdrop of another civil war… Banshees is a story of war and the stupidity of that.”  

McDonagh’s past film credits include Six Shooter (2004), Seven Psychopaths (2012), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017).  Banshees has already won Best Original Screenplay and Best Comedy/Musical at this year’s Golden Globes.

The evening commenced with SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling’s presentation of the Outstanding Director’s Award, who commented, “Your films make me feel as nothing short of a miracle.” Indeed, directing is a miracle of both craft, curiosity, and genius, and it’s certain we will see much more of Field and McDonagh at this year’s Academy Awards. Both films are currently nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.

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Santa Barbara International Film Festival photo from State Street