The Santa Barbara Film Festival — orchestrated, massaged, grooved and fine-tuned by the tireless Roger Durling — kicks off tomorrow night (Thursday, 2.2) with a gala showing of Robert Towne’s Ask the Dust (Paramount Classics, 3.10), with Towne and star Salma Hayek attending. (Towne will do a “conversation with” forum at Victoria Hall on Friday, 2.3, at 5:30 pm.) The films are always well-chosen but for me the SBFF is mainly about faces, seminars & panels, parties, blondes and photo-ops. Other creatives visiting Santa Barbara over the next ten days include George Clooney (recipient of the Modern Master Award on Friday evening, 2.3, at the Arlington); Naomi Watts (receiving the fest’s Montecito Award on Saturday, 2.4); directors James Cameron (recipient of the Attenborough Award on Monday, 2.6) and Mike Binder (Centerpiece Gala focus on Tuesday, 2.7); Heath Ledger (Breakthrough Performance honoree on Wednesday, 2.8); Transamerica star Felicity Huffman and History of Violence costar Maria Bello (both participating in a “conversation with” forum) and Capote star Philip Seymour Hoffman receiving the fest’s Riviera Award. The closing night film is Jason Reitman‘s very popular Thank You for Smoking, with Aaron Eckhardt giving his best performance since In The Compnay of Men.