The Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film has been presented every fall since 2006. The honor frequently goes to a filmmaker or actor in the early awards conversation with a sizable body of work primed for toasting. Previous recipients include Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Quentin Tarantino, Ed Harris, John Travolta, as well as Douglas himself at the first annual ceremony. The 2013 edition of the award will go to Forest Whitaker, star of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” at a black-tie Gala dinner in Santa Barbara on Sunday, Dec. 15.

This is the second year in a row The Weinstein Company has sewn and reaped the benefits of this particular early awards season exposure following a 2012 honor for “Silver Linings Playbook” star De Niro. And it couldn’t come at a more crucial time for both the film and its star. The Best Actor Oscar race remains hugely competitive this season, and each new piece of the puzzle, whether the festival debuts of “12 Years a Slave” and “Saving Mr. Banks” or the marketplace success of “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips,” edges out the August hit starring Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey just that much more.

“Forest Whitaker is an exceptional man and actor,” Douglas said. “His commitment to human causes, his passion for what is right and his dedication to his craft are inspirational, and at my age, inspiration is rare.”

A $30 million indie picture with a laundry list of producers, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” has grossed over $114,000,000 in the US since its Aug. 16 release. It remained #1 on the box office chart for three straight weeks, though the conversation on box office success in this Oscar race has been focused on “Gravity,” which will be shooting for four weeks at the top this weekend. It’s also part of a loaded Weinstein stable this season that hasn’t revealed a frontrunner within its own ranks quite yet.

Whitaker will also be seen in Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace” this year, which will see its world premiere at AFI Fest on Nov. 9, as well as the Kasi Lemmons musical “Black Nativity,” opening Nov. 27. Meanwhile, he served as a producer on Sundance sensation (and Weinstein acquisition) “Fruitvale Station” through his LA-based Significant Productions shingle.

Outside of the film world, Whitaker is the founder of Peace Earth Foundation and co-founder and chair of the International Institute for Peace, as well as the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation.

The December event serves as a fundraiser for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the 29th edition of which will run Jan. 30 - Feb. 9, 2014. In the coming weeks tribute and award recipients will be announced, sprinkled through a program which annually lands right in the middle of Oscar season.