Incredible. We knew that Santa Barbara would be the perfect place to premiere Crossing Bhutan - but we had no idea that the film would receive such a reception.
Crossing Bhutan was selected for one of the most coveted slots in the festival - 7pm, friday night of opening weekend in the historic Lobero Theater, a beautiful 600-person venue in downtown Santa Barbara. Two hours before the screening there were lines stretching around the block. I couldn't believe my eyes.
We were scheduled the same time as the American Riviera event with Rachel McAdams & Michael Keaton, so I anticipated we wouldn't get a huge turnout - but we packed the house!
After four years of work bringing this story to life, sitting in the theater alongside friends, family, and the Santa Barbara community was surreal. Even though every single decision you make bringing a film to life should in theory be made with the audience in mind, after countless hours alone in the editing room, it is so easy to lose connection to why, exactly, you're making the film. When the final credits rolled and people shot up to give the film a standing ovation, it almost didn't register that they were clapping for our film. It was incredibly humbling. A good 90% of the audience stuck around for our Q&A afterwards, and got to dig into some of the behind-the-scenes stories of what it took to make the film and share a bit about the grassroots movement growing around Bhutan's policy of Gross National Happiness.
Our second screening was EARLY Sunday morning [8:30AM!] -- so I had set my expectations pretty low for turnout. The programming director, Michael Albright assured me that there was a lively "Breakfast Club" that motivated for these early morning screenings. Sure enough, the lines for the film were MASSIVE. I walked into the theater to do the intro, and again, it was packed. Just outside the theater a woman sitting at an outside table at the cafe next door stopped me, and asked if I was the Director of Crossing Bhutan. She had just seen the film, and share how much the film moved her - and that it had brought her to tears. i never anticipated such a reaction.
SBIFF chooses a select number of films to schedule for an additional screening - and given all of the buzz from our first two screenings, Crossing Bhutan was selected for another screening at the Lobero theater. I showed up early the day of the additional screening to great people as they made their way into the theater ... and was blown away to find none other than Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, in the front of the line to get into the theater [!!]. Yvon's commitment to bringing human values into business has made him one of the business leaders that I have the most respect and admiration for. I found out that he too has traveled to Bhutan - and, unsurprisingly, that Bhutan was one of his favorite places. What a trip!
A week later, I learned that SBIFF had chosen Crossing Bhutan for another additional screening during its "best of" weekend -- and that our film was the best attended of the whole weekend, with 300+ in attendance.
I left SBIFF feeling totally complete, and with a very clear sense that there is a very strong audience for our film. Onward!