Santa Barbara and the Sea

An Interview with Director Chris Bell

<em>Santa Barbara and the Sea</em>
Courtesy Photo

Santa Barbara and the Sea is a sweeping, city-produced program by Chris Bell focused on our town’s connection to the sea, from the 13,000-year-old bones of Arlington Springs man on Santa Rosa Island to shipwrecks, Stearns Wharf, the commercial fishing industry, the Potter Hotel, and almost everything else slightly salty in between. Powered by interviews with historians, fishermen, and more, it’s screening will certainly be a reunion of sorts for the sea-going sort.

Bell recently answered a few of my questions via email.

This is pretty exhaustive historically, as well as a great tribute to many of the commercial fishermen who still hang out down by the harbor. Do you expect a big turnout of these two parts of our community, the history-lovers and the sea folk?

You can say that again! I’m hoping for a good turnout but, in all honesty, I don’t know how many people will show.

How did you decide to do this as a topic? Where did you draw boundaries?

As a surfer, history lover, marine tech program graduate, former Harbor Patrol crew, Marine Mammal Center volunteer, and former sea urchin diver tender, I guess I had a lot of inspiration. After learning about our incredible history producing Impressions in Time in 2000, I knew it would be a great project. I just had to wait for the right opportunity.

As far as boundaries go, it kind of happened in the edit bay. We thought the discovery of Arlington Springs Man was a great place to start but after that we just kept pairing it down with the end goals of education and watchability. This could have easily been a five-part, 10-hour series, but we just didn’t have the resources to do that.

What aspect do you think people know the least about? What did you learn or find most fascinating?

I think many people are surprised to learn that Stearns Wharf was not only closed for a while but also nearly torn down. Knowing a little about diving, I found the exploits and accomplishments of former abalone divers like Dan Wilson, Bob Kirby, and Lad Handelman inspiring and fascinating.

How long did it take to put this together?

Roughly five years. It was always a lower-priority project and after the recession hit and we lost staff it became even more so.

You managed to avoid the fisherman-versus-environmentalist controversy that so often plagues any discussion of the ocean’s future. Was that intentional?

Very intentional. Having read some of your writing on the subject, I know you know what a complex and tricky subject it is. Because the situation with MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) is still fluid and because we couldn’t afford the time it would take to cover it well, we avoided it. I heard plenty of optimistic reports on scientist/regulator/fisherman cooperation, however some of my fishermen friends aren’t so rosy on the topic.

What changes can we expect for the shoreline in the years to come?

That’s a big question that I really don’t feel qualified to answer. That being said I believe we’ll see a healthier ocean due to the great efforts of our Creeks Department and funded by Measure B. I’m hopeful that our harbor will remain a working one. I’m also hopeful that our community, that prides itself on being environmentally conscious, will realize that one of the best ways to be green is to buy fish from local fishermen.

What topic is next on your plate?

Due to the budget, nothing like this. We do get to produce some fun PSA’s promoting emergency preparedness, recycling, and clean creeks, though.

Santa Barbara and the Sea screens on Tuesday, January 31, 1 p.m., at the S.B. Museum of Art.


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