A crown jewel of Santa Barbara County, the Gaviota Coast is celebrated the world over for its soul-stirring beauty and vast biodiversity both onshore and off. That also makes it a preferred target for real estate developers and oil extractors. For the past half decade, filmmakers Tamlorn Chase and Shaw Leonard have been working to document this threatened region in all it’s unbridled glory before it is too late. See gaviotamovie.com.
For the uninformed, please explain the magic and the import of the Gaviota region.
Traveling from San Diego to Santa Barbara, it would appear that our natural heritage has disappeared forever. But, by some miracle, the urban limit stops a mere 20 miles from the northern geographic border of Southern California. These 20 miles are known as the Gaviota Coast, the longest and last stretch of undeveloped coastline in Southern California. With nearly 90 percent of the Southern California coast lost to development, this coastline is the last bastion of hope for wildlife trying to survive a world closing in.
Bears, wildfires, big cats, snow, underwater fantasy worlds. This film has it all. How did you manage to document such an amazing spectrum of often elusive nature?
This film required intensive research and tracking of elusive animals like black bears, white tailed kites, and mountain lions. During the filming process it was very common for the crew to return to a single location several weeks in a row just to catch a single glimpse of the animal.
The challenges faced in this production required the film crew to design and fabricate custom equipment. We created one-of-a-kind production equipment that was lightweight, extremely durable, and allowed us to film in the most extreme environments and weather conditions the coast has to offer. Our innovation and relentless persistence resulted in the documentation of over 50 unique wildlife species that are found on the Gaviota Coast.
What is the hope for making a movie like this?
Our dream with this film is to draw international attention to the Gaviota Coast, one of the world’s most threatened biodiversity hotspots. It focuses on the ecology of the coast, not the politics. We wanted to make a film that would inspire people to fall in love with this coast and want to protect it for future generations.
What was the hardest part of making this movie? What was the best part?
Time away from family and friends was the most challenging sacrifice to make year after year. It took us five years to complete this project and many people in ours lives fell to the wayside. The longer we filmed the more obsessed we became. Our lives revolved around the seasons and wildlife. The film became our identity, and we had to keep our focus on filming until we had done this coastline justice. Looking back, the best part of making this film was the adventure of exploring this beautiful coastline and sharing it with others.
Any big surprises along the way?
We encountered the most dangerous situation while filming the Sherpa Fire. This was the first large fire on the coast since filming began. We knew we would not get a second chance so we grabbed our gear and headed straight into the fire. At home that night we replayed the day’s events over and over, knowing that we had filmed the most extreme footage of our career. Then there was the Refugio oil spill, witnessing that firsthand was the greatest shock. It made the vulnerability of this coast real and reinvigorated our mission to protect it from industrial development.
What caused the first spark of creativity that eventually gave birth to this film?
In 2009, we had the honor of screening The Future of the Gaviota Coast at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The community’s support was overwhelming and we began dreaming of making a film that was focused on the wildlife of the same coast. Shortly after we started working with the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, including Guner Tautrim, a sixth generation Gaviota Coast resident who serves on their Board of Directors. The Gaviota Coast Conservancy is the only organization focused exclusively on defending and preserving the entirety of the Gaviota Coast. Their mission was aligned with the story I wanted to tell and the dream of Gaviota: The End of Southern California was born.