Roger Durling brings the world of film to the shores of Santa Barbara

Roger+Durling%2C+who+has+been+the+Executive+Director+of+the+Santa+Barbara+International+Film+Festival+for+17+years%2C+on+March+18%2C+2021+inside+the+Santa+Barbara+International+Film+Festival+office+in+Santa+Barbara%2C+Calif.+Durling+has+interviewed+directors%2C+actors+and+other+professionals+from+the+film+industry+at+the+office+since+lockdowns+last+year.

Alloy Zarate

Roger Durling, who has been the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for 17 years, on March 18, 2021 inside the Santa Barbara International Film Festival office in Santa Barbara, Calif. Durling has interviewed directors, actors and other professionals from the film industry at the office since lockdowns last year.

Alloy Zarate, Features Editor

Roger Durling’s earliest memories are of going to the movie theaters in Panama where he grew up.

“Panama is very tropical, it’s humid,” he said. “And movie theaters are cold.”

Nearly five decades later, Durling has helped to shape the Academy Awards season through his role as the executive director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

When he first took it over he said the film festival was “terrible.”

“I knew how to turn it around, instinctually,” he said.

At the time, Durling owned a coffee shop in Summerland and saved up money to attend film festivals whenever he could. He had seen what a better festival could look like.

“Santa Barbara deserved a high-level film festival like the others,” he said.

Durling didn’t have a lot of experience, but he loved the arts.

“I’ll never forget being in a very small town in France when I was a very young man traveling,” he said. “I went into a small cafe and this lady who didn’t speak French said ‘John Wayne?’”

The two started laughing and he said he felt the power that films could have to connect people.

“It’s such a pure form of expression,” he said.

Since the first Santa Barbara lockdown over a year ago, Durling has selected and watched a different movie for each day, followed by a written recommendation in the form of a newsletter.

The first day was just a quick email to send an optimistic message.

“They started getting longer … professor Durling writing,” he said.

Before solid plans for this year’s film festival fell into place, he said it nearly felt hopeless to put something together.

Then the idea for the drive-ins by the beach struck him.

“The location is so perfect because you have the ocean … the setting which is quintessential Santa Barbara,” he said.

After his first year of working with the film festival, Durling started teaching at City College. The dean of Media Studies asked him to fill in for a summer class.

“At the time nobody wanted to teach summer film,” he said. “It was like sink-or-swim.”

For about 17 years, he’s been teaching and using his unique connections in the film industry to guide his students.

“Since I was a little kid I was analyzing films,” he said. “I try to help students arrive to that analytical way that I see film.”

Durling shares his work from the film festival with his students. He does Q&A sessions with prominent film industry figures like Spike Lee, Pete Docter, Chloé Zhao and more.

“I am able to take advantage of that and provide access to my students,” he said. “It’s so rewarding to know that City College is able to provide that access.”