From the Ocean Bottom to Mars with James Cameron

Attenborough Award, Monday, February 6, 8 p.m., Marjorie Luke

I’m on my way there now, right after these interviews are over,”
said James Cameron about his home in Hollister Ranch, that paradise
of cowboy surfers and rock poets like Brown and Crosby. “I get up
there as often as I can, and especially, I use it as a writing
retreat, sometimes for six months at a stretch.” Of course, he
swears by the ranch’s beauty and its uncanny resistance to the June
gloom we mere Santa Barbarians must endure. He, the man the Film
Festival will salute with the second annual Attenborough Award for
Nature Filmmaking due to his immersion in oceanic themes, knows
what currents create this ranch-specific sunshine and is aware of
one terrible irony of his residence. “The funny thing is that our
home is right on Little Drakes — one of the best breaks in the
world,” he said, regretfully. “And I don’t surf.”

But he does love the ocean, and is happy that the fest is
celebrating his nature films. “I’m always honored to be honored,”
said a breezy, loquacious Cameron over the phone from his Los
Angeles office. Even better, though, the honoring’s happening here.
“I have this great feeling of bringing it back home,” he said,
pointing out the deep involvement he’s had at UCSB, particularly
with the marine biologist Dijanna Figueroa, who as a grad student
was “discovered” by Cameron. She ended up not only working on
Aliens of the Deep — which is being shown to nearly 3,000
schoolkids during the fest at the Museum of Natural History — but,
because her face was on the movie poster coast-to-coast, attained
some film-world celebrity. “I also did a big fundraiser for them at
the Bacara,” he said, and admits he is still considering the campus
(among others) as a site for the archiving of the film he shot in
all of his ocean-exploration films.

If you ask Cameron about the road from great horror (Terminator)
to horror/thriller (Aliens, T2), through the most successful
romantic epic in film history (Titanic) to all of this nature in
3-d, he waxes funny. “Are you trying to say my career is bizarre?”
Cameron laughed. “There is a grand master plan. No, actually, if
you are going to make a film, it had better be something you can
commit to passionately 24/7 for a couple of years,” he said,
professing astonishment that someone like Martin Scorsese can make
movie after movie about gangsters.

The ocean is a topic that not only drew him in, but kept
rewarding him organically. Work on Titanic and The Abyss meant
dives, which drew him into the abyss itself. At the same time, he
admits that the technology he created to dive and photograph the
depths are as rewarding as the topic itself. “It’s very fair to say
that. To a gearhead [like me], this is paradise,” he said.

Cameron — who is now working on a series of films that derive
from animé and other fantasy sources, some of which are being kept
secret (though he strongly denies he’s involved in an “Aquaman”
project, a rumor begun on the HBO series Entourage) — thinks
America has become lazy about the idea of exploration. He’s become
involved with NASA to promote a mission to Mars and will be
supplying a future flight with 3-d technology. So, inner space is
not the end. “I’ll be shooting the first film on Mars in 3-d,” he
said. And if he wasn’t able to make movies for some reason? “I
would be exploring. Or maybe I would just own a little dive shop,”
he said.


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