SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 15: (L-R) Honoree Jeffrey Wright and John Ortiz pose with the Montecito Award during the 39th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival at The Arlington Theatre on February 15, 2024 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 15: (L-R) Honoree Jeffrey Wright and John Ortiz pose with the Montecito Award during the 39th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival at The Arlington Theatre on February 15, 2024 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)

Red Carpet Photos And More From The 39TH ANNUAL SBIFF MONTECITO AWARD Featuring Honoree Jeffrey Wright, Moderated by Roger Durling

About The Event:   Jeffrey Wright will be honored with the Montecito Award at the 39th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Wright will receive the award on Thursday, February 15th, 2024 at an in-person conversation about his career leading up to this year’s performance in Orion Pictures / Amazon MGM Studios’ AMERICAN FICTION, written and directed by Cord Jefferson. Wright has received lead actor nominations from the Gotham Awards, Spirit Awards, Golden Globe Awards and the Critics Choice Awards thus far for his wonderful performance as protagonist, ‘Thelonious “Monk” Ellison.’

“I’ve been a fan of Mr. Wright since I first saw him in 1993 in the original Broadway production of ANGELS IN AMERICA. I’ve since admired that he brings a high level of class and integrity to every role he does. Yet, no film had capitalized on his extraordinary range and virtuosity until AMERICAN FICTION. It is about time.” SBIFF’s Executive Director Roger Durling stated.

Jeffrey Wright is a Tony, Emmy, AFI, and Golden Globe Award-winning actor who has enjoyed an illustrious career spanning the worlds of theatre, film, and television. Wright was most recently seen in the critically acclaimed role of ‘Bernard Lowe’ in HBO’s WESTWORLD, for which he earned three Emmy nominations. He can currently be seen in the George C. Wolfe-directed Civil Rights pic, RUSTIN, portraying ‘Adam Clayton Powell.’ RUSTIN is produced by Michelle and Barack Obama’s Higher Ground Productions. In June 2023, Wright was seen as part of the all-star ensemble cast in the Wes Anderson film ASTEROID CITY. In March of 2022, Wright portrayed the iconic character, ‘Jim Gordon,” in the latest installment of THE BATMAN franchise directed by Matt Reeves. In April 2021, Wright reprised his role of CIA agent ‘Felix Leiter’ in the James Bond film, NO TIME TO DIE. In October 2021, he starred in another all-star ensemble cast in Wes Anderson’s THE FRENCH DISPATCH. 20 Other recent projects include lead roles in Netflix’s ALL DAY AND A NIGHT (May 2020), HBO’s O.G., which premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, where Wright won the award for Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film and Netflix’s HOLD THE DARK (September 2018).

The Montecito Award is named after one of the most beautiful and stylish areas in Santa Barbara. Past recipients include Angela Bassett, Penélope Cruz, Amanda Seyfried, Lupita Nyong’o, Melissa McCarthy, Saoirse Ronan, Isabelle Huppert, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah Winfrey, Daniel Day-Lewis, Geoffrey Rush, Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts and Javier Bardem.

Quotes from the Award Presentation:

  • Speaking to Jeffrey Wright’s stature as an actor, moderator and SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling stated, “Jeffrey Wright brings an unparalleled, unassuming commitment to his roles. He exudes such vibrancy and intellect that even the small parts become standouts. He exalts any project by merely being on it.
  • Talking about his early acting work, Wright said, “Your first big break is when you get on stage or in front of the camera for the first time and nobody throws something at you, and instead, they lean in.”
  • On Angels in America, Wright shared that “It spoiled me in some ways, because it was a perfect marriage of my interests. Storytelling and politics. And it was so beautiful, so lyrical. Just a masterful piece of writing. When I say it was a perfect experience, there were times that I was doing that play, I remember saying to myself ‘I am where I am to be right now.’”
  • On playing playing Jean-Michel Basquiat for Basquiat, Wright shared, “I understood spaces that he inhabited. I understood what he was trying to do, in some ways…I also think I draw from similar creative sources or pools. His work speaks so deeply to me.”
  • Before working with Christopher Walken in Basquiat, Wright watched him perform on stage, an experience he talked a bit about, noting that, “He took Shakespeare, and it was as though he was recreating it out of his mouth with every breath. It was alive.”
  • Speaking to his work with co-star Al Pacino, Wright shared that, “I realized that he loves the process maybe more than he loves the final thing. For him, the process of working and mining through it, that was it.”
  • In discussing the difference between a fiction and non-fiction role, Wright explained that “There’s an additional responsibility of yours going to recreate the story of someone’s life. I kind of tend to take that reasonably seriously. And try my best to at least find the essence of who they were. And research as much as possible who they were.”
  • Wright also shared a bit about his experience on Westworld, saying, “It was a lot, but what it taught me was something that I use to this day on sets. We shot the equivalent of 5-6 movies in 6 months. We shot long hours. We loved it, and it was complex – we were working toward a high goal. But it taught me to work efficiently.”
  • For his work shooting within a prison for O.G., Wright opened up about his interest in the role: “There was a big conversation happening about prison reform and incarceration. I saw it as an opportunity to work, to challenge myself, and to educate myself.”
  • Wright also talked a bit about why the other actors, many of them prisoners incarcerated in that very same facility, wanted to take part in the project: “It was an opportunity for them to do something constructive, something creative. And they talked, many of them, about seizing on this opportunity to show, particularly their families and their kids, those of them who had them, that they were better than their worst mistake, or series of mistakes. It was a powerful experience.”
  • Talking a bit about the complication of shooting The Batman around Covid, Wright explained that, “The length of time that it took us to shoot Batman was so extreme that there’s a scene…when I get up and shoot, that’s March of 2020. When I drop back down, that’s March, 2021. Within a cut.
  • Diving into his most recent work, Wright talked a bit about why the film was so widely impactful: “It’s a family that’s recognizable, because it’s a family that’s as crazy as everyone’s family is.”
  • Speaking to his core connection to American Fiction, Wright noted that, “For me, the heart is the family. That’s what drew me in. That’s what plucked all of my emotional and psychological strings.”
  • John Ortiz, American Fiction co-star and award presenter, shared some kind words about Wright, saying, “One of the many ways he inspired was by raising the bar. By example. That’s what the great ones do.”
  • In accepting the award, Wright gave one final thought on the role of film: “We tell these stories, we make these movies so that people will see them. So that audiences will find them. Take them in and find something inside of them that moves them.”


About the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Over the past 38 years, SBIFF has become one of the leading film festivals in the United States – attracting 100,000 attendees and offering 11 days of 200+ films, tributes, and symposiums, fulfilling their mission to engage, enrich, and inspire the Santa Barbara community through film.

Sponsors of the 39th SBIFF include: Manitou Fund, Black Market Spirits, DAOU Vineyards, Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Panavision, Santa Barbara City, US Bank, Montecito Bank & Trust, Yardi, Kaleidoscope Productions, ADL Santa Barbara/Tri-Counties, American Society of Cinematographers, John C. Mithun Foundation, Audrey Hillman Fisher Foundation, Northern Trust, Netflix, Visit The Santa Ynez Valley, Bentson Foundation, Volentine Family Foundation, Toad&Co, Topa Topa Brewing Company, Boxed Water Is Better, Saige Private Wealth, El Encanto and many more generous supporters.

SBIFF continues its commitment to education and the community throughout many free educational programs and events. In 2016, SBIFF entered a new era with the acquisition of the historic and beloved Riviera Theatre. After a capital campaign and renovation, the theatre is now SBIFF’s new state-of-the-art, year-round home, showing new international and independent films every day. In 2019, SBIFF opened its own Education Center in downtown Santa Barbara on State Street to serve as a home for its many educational programs and a place for creativity and learning.