Daniel Bollag wanted to right a wrong but ended up creating a film festival. “It all began when I made a film about my friend the activist Joshua Braun, who ran the Hortipharm Clinic,” said Bollag out for coffee recently to talk about his mini-documentary pop-up fest at the Arlington Theatre. To Bollag, Braun’s plight underscored an example of the justice system from which the idea of justice had been eliminated. Though a purveyor of medicinal pot, Hortipharm frontman Braun always worked with ultimate transparency, dotting every i and conducting business with lots of police input. So, when the federal government cracked down on Hortipharm’s landlord, Braun promptly shut down. Weeks later, Braun claims, the landlord begged him to reopen. Not long after, however, the feds struck hard with a predawn raid on Braun’s home, hauling off both him and his wife. “The punishment was built into the crime,” said Bollag, who obtained footage of the arrest. Bollag’s angry doc, titled Blood Ganja, may not be a scrupulously balanced film, but it snags on our consciousness, passionately propelling forward to rage against the injustice of the raid, as well as the “crime.” Bollag was so pleased with its relevance he rented the Arlington to screen it. “I figured something as important as this was in Santa Barbara now ought to be presented in a dramatic way.”
But then he had another idea. “I figured as long as I had the theater, why not create a whole festival around it?” said Bollag, no stranger to the world of film. Born in New York, he attended the New York Film Academy in Manhattan. After graduating in the early 1990s, Bollag turned to the commodities market to support his family, until one day a coworker dropped dead at his desk, convincing Bollag that the pursuit of dreams ought not to be deferred. He made the independent feature thriller Identical, which ended up getting distribution. “It did all right,” he said. “We sold it to Redbox, and it did all right.” The documentary was next and then the idea of a Pop Up Film Festival. Bollag, who just took over the reins of the Community Film Studio Santa Barbara, says he’s keeping his options open about moving this fest to other towns. He did choose a raft of other brand-new films to present, all of which have a social conscience and heavy local angle.
“I felt like most of the Santa Barbara festivals have become marketing arms for big-money studios,” said Bollag, who readily admits he loves the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). (His family has long been involved with it, he said.) But Bollag feels that festivals are rigged against the filmmakers, who don’t get paid for screening their work and have very slim hopes of getting “picked up” by distributors — even though that’s the lure. He is paying all of the filmmakers participating in his fest.
“Filmmaking is the dominant art form of the day,” said Bollag. “Scorsese is the Picasso of this era.” He is doing his part to enhance that culture while offering filmmakers a chance to speak truth. “I was raised this way, to never take anything at face value,” said Bollag, who has planned a day of celebrating those voices, with music, parties, and panels to enhance the experience. “I just hope we have crowds there to see this work.”
Daniel Bollag’s Pop Up Doc Film Festival takes place this Thursday, January 23, noon-midnight at the Arlington Theatre. For more info, call (805) 963-9503 or visit thearlingtontheatre.com.