Each year, the film fest welcomes submissions from hometown filmmakers-both professional and student/amateur-and compiles them into the Santa Barbara Filmmakers sidebar, where the usually world-premiere screenings are always sure to attract a supportive crowd. This time around, curator Russ Spencer promised, “It’s another super-strong year.” What’s different, said Spencer, is that “a lot of the biggest filmmakers in town who aren’t usually in the film festival are represented this year.”
That list includes PBS producer Tom Shepard, whose documentary Whiz Kids follows high school students who are interested in science for two years on their path to the Science Talent Search, considered the biggest competition in the country. With American students largely skipping out on science these days, the doc shows that scientists can be both brilliant and fun, and should engage more students. Another known name is Emmy Award-winner Mark Stouffer, who gets freaky with his horror film Creature of Darkness. This is the tale of a man who heads to the desert with friends to confront his fears of getting ravaged by a monster, only to wind up facing his worst nightmare. It will screen with the Chandler Landon short film The Last Confession.
But the familiar faces don’t stop there. Brooks Institute professor Tracy Trotter entered a documentary in this year’s fest about the green building industry, called Green from the Ground Up. Director Renee Bergan, who’s been in the fest before, brings us Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy, a look at the struggle for women in that tumultuous Caribbean country to find fair wages. It will screen with Jacob Seigel-Boettner’s short doc Pascal’s Bike, about a Rwandan coffee farmer and his bicycle. Also in the return performance category are Michael and Tina Love, who broke away from the documentary format to deliver the narrative feature Hold It Like a Baby, which features an all-star Santa Barbara cast acting out a dark comedy.
Then there are the newcomers, and what a trio they are. Most eagerly awaited out of the newbies must be Mark Manning’s The Road to Fallujah, the former deep sea oil rig diver’s opus on the follies of the Iraq War that brings together commentary from soldiers, Iraqi citizens, peacemakers, and the filmmaker himself. Many years in the making, it comes to town after a world premiere at Slamdance. Also in development for a few years is Jeremy Fraye’s Dead Horse Opera, a biographical look at songwriter Wil Ridge, who once had a job cleaning up large dead animals from Santa Ynez Valley ranches. Fraye follows Ridge on the way to producing his first album, and, fittingly, the doc offers a solid soundtrack. And rounding out the newcomers is perhaps the most promising: Tod Lancaster and Cassandra Nichols bring us Mile High, a probing look at what it takes to be president-both psychologically and logistically-all wrapped up in the Barack Obama-loving plight of 17-year-old Luke Loper and his quest to make it inside the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Including interviews with such campaign veterans as Dan Rather, Tim Russert, and Pat Buchanan, the doc is a fresh take on politics as they enter a fresh new era.
While none of the aforementioned films focus solely on our town, that’s alright, because there’s a double feature sure to please all Santa Barbara-philes. Janette Garc-a’s Luis Leal: A Journey of 100 Years is a biographical documentary about the renowned scholar and former UCSB professor of Chicano Studies, who continues to influence the field at the age of 100. It will be shown alongside Shelley Bookspan’s My Friends Call Me Miss Chase, about Pearl Chase, the mother of Santa Barbara’s civic style. Using Chase’s own words and interviews with those who knew her, Bookspan’s doc offers a one-of-a-kind peek at the woman responsible for making Santa Barbara what it is today.
But the lens doesn’t stop focusing on the Santa Barbara region with those two films. In a special presentation this year, three nature filmmakers will be shown together. Michael Hanrahan’s Santa Cruz Island: Restoring Balance covers the various ecological programs, such as the removal of feral pigs, that have occurred on this largest of the Channel Islands. Shaw Leonard and Marc Mirabile tackle one of Santa Barbara County’s biggest questions in The Future of the Gaviota Coast. And UCSB’s Gail Osherenko turns her lens toward birds in the perfectly titled Dark Side of the Loon.
For the music lovers, music video director Mark Fiore, who’s based in the Lobero Building, will present Linkin Park: The Making of Minutes to Midnight, a behind-the-scenes report on the making of the rock band’s latest album. It will be shown along with the video “Given Up,” and will be followed by a Q&A with Fiore and some members of Linkin Park.
On top of all this, there are the Santa Barbara-made short films, which often feature some of the true gems in hometown helming. See the narrative short program, featuring films from John McKinney, Jason Hallows, Karl Mefford, and others, on January 28, at 9:30 p.m., in Victoria Hall Theater. And the student shorts, featuring work from UCSB, SBCC, and Brooks students, among others, will screen on January 24, at 9:30 p.m., in Victoria Hall Theater and January 26, at 1 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.