Film Festival Sells Out Opening Night with Premiere of “Miranda’s Victim”

By Mahil Senathirajah

Spotlights once again searched the sky in front of the Arlington Theatre Wednesday night, bat signaling to the city that the Santa Barbara Film Festival (SBIFF) is back.

The 2022 version occurred right at the waning end of the original Omicron wave and was really the city’s first big public event since the beginning of the pandemic. This year, COVID is at least forgotten if not exactly gone but, in the age of streaming, movie theaters and film festivals have struggled to recapture their audience. People have not yet fully re-emerged into the darkness. With that said, a sizeable and enthusiastic audience was present Wednesday night. 

Mayor Randy Rowse kicked things off providing a warm if low key welcome. Speaking from the aisle not the stage, Executive Director Roger Durling likened the film festival to a tribal experience (in a good way – it’s OK to disagree) and exhorted the tribe to revel in the darkness as much as possible over the next 10 days.  Consistent with a lovely tradition, Durling invited attendees to chat with a neighboring stranger for a couple of minutes to build the tribe.

Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse (Photo: Fritz Olenberger)

The opening night film was the world premiere of “Miranda’s Victim.” It tells the fascinating true story behind the 1966 Supreme Court decision that required people being advised of their rights to an attorney before police questioning in order for related evidence to be admissible in court.  It is really the origin story behind what has become a pivotal scene in every police or court procedural drama since.

The case involves a young woman who was raped after leaving a bus stop, an alleged coerced confession, the trial of the alleged perpetrator, the involvement of the ACLU in bringing the case to the Supreme Court and, ultimately, the retrial of the accused. It is a difficult story to tell covering multiple years and interweaving plot lines and characters. There are really two protagonists, both seeking justice, on opposite sides of a brutal crime.  In part, the film was made because the victim was ready to tell her story after 60 years of avoiding the public glare.

If the filmmakers were ambitious in tackling the subject, they succeeded in bringing a coherent, well structured, and compellingly watchable story to screen.  The film is very well cast, bringing a diverse ensemble of experienced actors to the project including: Abigail Breslin, Ryan Phillipe, Donald Sutherland, Luke Wilson, Andy Garcia and Kyle MacLachan as Earl Warren (I’m pretty sure the only Chief Justice with a Showground named after them).

First time director, Michelle Danner, is an accomplished acting coach and it shows. She elicits strong performances from her ensemble during, no doubt, a short shooting schedule with the actors coming together to tell a unified story.  Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine,” gives a particularly nuanced performance conveying both the powerlessness of women in rape cases (and the attendant loneliness) as well as the resolve to do the right thing despite the cost.  She is the emotional core of the film.

In fact, the first half of the film is really about the way rape cases were handled in the early 60s including a systemic lack of awareness and compassion for the psychological trauma and the minimization of rape by families.  It is an interesting story-telling choice and makes the film much richer than just another genre police/court drama.  However, the film is not hard to watch despite the subject matter.

The second half focuses on the court room with Ryan Phillipe and Luke Wilson giving vigorous performances as opposition counsel. The back and forth between them, ultimately in front of Donald Sutherland as a patrician judge, is spirited. However, to its benefit, the film continues to focus on the characters and story, and steers clear of excessive jurisprudence detail.

The film is graced by period detail and directorial flourishes which include using To Kill a Mockingbird as a framing device.  The film also has some current social relevance as the Supreme Court weighs in on other issues involving women’s bodies and, in fact, eroded Miranda protections in a 2022 ruling.

I did not know the ending of the story and there is palpable drama and twists in its conclusion.  True crime fans should be pleased.  Ultimately, Miranda’s Victim is an interesting story well told.

Films continue for the next nine days and the festival is accessible even without a pass.  You can buy 4-paks of tickets ($72)mand get into films, especially during the weekdays…just in case you need to revel in a little darkness. Visit for more information.

Mahil Senathirajah

Written by Mahil Senathirajah

Mahil Senathirajah is an independent film consultant and contributing writer to

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