The SBIFF Axiom or Why Are They Treating Me So Badly?

Life recently took me to Santa Barbara. Actually, wife took me to Santa Barbara, but it comes to the same thing. While there I was forced to notice how you can tell what really matters to any business, institution or endeavor. And I have dubbed the answer the SBIFF Axiom: those who matter are those who get treated well and vice versa.

SBIFF is the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and it happened to be going on during our visit which seemed cool. Pay $125 for a pass good for 10 movies. A bit pricey on a per film basis, but new movies, foreign movies, auteur films, oddball films, documentaries not likely to show up in Podunk or on Netflix.

Of course there were gold-plated plans starting at $350 for access to all movies with some rising as high as thousands of dollars for the chance hobnob with (or at least be in the same room with) Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford , Leo and Scorcese, Bruce Dern or Oprah.

But we were content just to mosey in and sample some movies. Then came the surprise. Those without the pricier all-access passes had to show up an hour before each screening and stand in line to get a numbered card.

Then 20 minutes before the film they had to return and stand in line again in numerical order and wait for the VIPs to be seated. If there were 50 seats left, numbers 1 through 50 would be seated and the poor saps at the end of the breadline would be told to come back, stand in line for a different movie and try again.

I have been to other film festivals that simply sell a pass which you can swap for tickets, first come first served for each showing. Show up, get ticket, see movie. At first I thought SBIFF was just incredibly ill-managed, a Rube Goldberg film fest, abusive to its patrons.

But then it dawned on me that this was a Santa Barbara film festival and it made sense. The city is a bastion of the one percent where dozens of wealthy celebrities have one of their many homes – Michael Douglas, Eddie Vedder, Oprah again, Cheryl Tiegs, Ryan Reynolds, several Beach Boys, Stevie Nicks, Jeff Bridges, Sue Grafton. You get the idea.

So of course the festival is designed to give priority to the platinum members and to treat the average Joe like a coach passenger flying stand-by. It is designed for people willing to pay thousands to dress up and see and be seen at opening and closing ceremonies and other red carpet gala events, not for people who just want to see 10 movies in 5 days and answer “Costco” to the question “Who are you wearing?”

Thus the SBIFF Axiom: You can figure out what really matters to a company, charity, political party or film festival by seeing who they treat really well and who they treat really badly.

Lagniappe: When we couldn’t get a seat at a film, we did find out where to get really well fed. Beautifully prepared and presented French at Petit Valentien. For a particularly good deal, the four course Sunday Prix Fixe dinner. Fantastic Italian at Trattoria Grappolo in the Sideways wine country of Santa Ynez where the bread and olive oil alone are worth the price of admission. Try the sole, the pizza, the pounded pork with prosciutto and brie. Great Mexican all over town, try breakfast at Rose Cafe, tacos at Cuernavaca and the entire menu at Los Agaves. And for perfectly nice Middle Eastern with a nifty visual experience, dine outdoors at the flaming tables of Zaytoon. And on your way back to Podunk, stop in at the Zaca Mesa winery for Rhone varietal blends. They’ll be happy to ship you a case or you can check it and throw your luggage away. Bon appétit.

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