EXCLUSIVE: In a move that could give a kick-start to the Warner Bros  campaign to land major Oscar recognition for their brainy summer blockbuster Inception, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival will present the film’s writer/director/producer Christopher Nolan with its highest honor, the Modern Master Award on January 30th at the historic Arlington Theatre. The award, which was first given in 1995, is designed for an  “individual who has enriched our culture through his/her multi-faceted accomplishments in the motion picture industry”. Past recipients have included, among others,  Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Jodie Foster,  Peter Jackson, George Clooney, Clint Eastwood and last year, James Cameron.

“Every one of Nolan’s films has set a new standard for the film community, with Inception being the latest example,” said  Roger Durling, Executive Director of the fest now in its 26th year. “Nolan was the natural choice for this year’s SBIFF’s  Modern Master Award.”

Nolan’s  other credits include The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, The Prestige, Insomnia and Memento, for which he received his only Oscar nomination to date in the Best Original Screenplay category.  He was nominated  for DGA, PGA and WGA awards for Dark Knight but was overlooked by the Academy in all three of those areas including Best Picture. Warners is clearly looking to change that for Inception and awards like this  one are important precursors in establishing the film  beyond its summer blockbuster roots and as a serious contender. The SBIFF is known for being a must-stop on the campaign circuit and it’s tributees  generally also end up with Oscar nominations.  There are well over 100 voting members said to reside in the Santa Barbara area at least part of the year and the fest honorees   are given front page treatment in the local newspapers and other media. Last year’s SBIFF award  list included  Cameron, Sandra Bullock, Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.

The fest will run January 27-February 6, 2011.