Robert Downey Jr. Honored at 39th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Posted on: Feb 13, 2024

Photo Credit: Honoree Robert Downey Jr. poses with his Maltin Modern Master Award (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)

By Steffanie Bradley

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is a non-profit organization recognized as a 501(c)(3), has remained committed to its mission of promoting independent and international cinema for over 38 years. It has evolved into a distinguished film festival within the United States, drawing in a crowd of 100,000 passionate attendees. Spanning 11 days, the festival offers a rich program of over 200 films, tributes, and symposiums, creating an immersive experience that engages, enriches, and inspires the Santa Barbara community through the power of film.

SBIFF was buzzing with excitement on February 9, 2024, as it honored cinema icon Robert Downey Jr. with the prestigious Maltin Modern Master Award. Held at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, California, this event marked the 39th annual edition of the renowned film festival.

The award presentation was a star-studded affair. Guests included presenters Rob Lowe and Cillian Murphy. Leonard Maltin, the legendary film historian and critic after whom the award is named, served as the evening’s moderator.

Honoree Robert Downey Jr. and Leonard Maltin (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)

Leonard Maltin introduced Robert Downey Jr., describing him as a unique and light-hearted individual. “He wears all of this so lightly, his resting face is a smile, I promise you, you’ll see for yourself. He’s truly one of a kind,” Maltin proclaimed.

Downey Jr. reflected on his early career and his journey in the entertainment industry. From working odd jobs at a sandwich shop and a shoe store to resorting to theater and his famous battle with (and ultimate recovery from) addiction, he candidly recounted his path to success.

Rob Lowe, a long-time friend of Robert Downey Jr., fondly remembered their high school days together and applauded Downey Jr.’s achievements. “Robert’s story is being a once in a generation talent and courageous performer,” Lowe stated.

The conversation also touched on the directors with whom Downey Jr. has worked over the years. He expressed his desire to please them, saying, “You just want to feel like you’re making them happy. It’s one of these weird things where you just want mom or dad to see you’re a good boy, like ‘Hey, you gave me this job.'”

The event took a heartfelt turn when Downey Jr. humbly acknowledged the impact of playing Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, stating, “I will never be as cool as Tony Stark, but it was so cool to be associated with someone like that for a while, and then it wore off.”

When asked if his children have watched his films, Downey Jr. humorously shared that his wife managed to shield them from getting too caught up in his fame. “I don’t know how my wife did this, but they only have a passing interest in my majesty. They’re into what they’re into. One day they’ll realize who their father was,” he quipped.

Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr. and Rob Lowe (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)

The evening also included kind words from fellow Oppenheimer Oscar-nominated co-star Cillian Murphy, who praised Downey Jr. for his unique talent and his ability to make acting look effortless. “Robert works incredibly hard to make it look so, so easy because all the great ones do. But he’s not just a great actor; he’s kind of a unicorn because he’s risen to the level of superstar that few of us can comprehend,” Murphy humbly shared.

Downey Jr. took a moment to reflect on the lessons he has learned from working with many talented individuals, from fellow actors to great directors and everyone in between. He acknowledged the profound impact such interactions can have on personal growth.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is known for honoring individuals who have left an indelible mark on the film industry. Robert Downey Jr. is no exception. With over 110 acting credits to his name, including the iconic role of Iron Man, he has solidified his place among the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful actors of our time.

The Modern Master Award is the highest accolade bestowed by the SBIFF, recognizing individuals who have enriched our culture through their accomplishments in the motion picture industry. Past recipients have included Jamie Lee Curtis, Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Christopher Nolan and Clint Eastwood, among others.

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