Even if you’re not a silent-film cinephile, you’ll find something familiar at the Flying A Studio Centennial Celebration screening at the Pollock Theater this Saturday. “For one thing, you’ll get a chance to see what the wharf looked like in 1916,” explained UCSB Studio Professor Dana Driskel, the man whose grad-school obsession with our city’s early major movieland history led him to make a documentary film about it. He later went on to research the subject, and now he’s spearheading this five-film lovefest, featuring movies shot all around our town, back before movies could talk. “There’s this great story element to the films,” he explained. “People who come will see five solid stories, including one two-reeler called Mother of the Ranch that even I’ve never seen before. And if I haven’t seen it, it’s a pretty sure bet no one has.”
For those who don’t know, The American Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago, commonly called Flying A Studios, settled in Santa Barbara just two years after its 1910 founding. “The studio lasted through a very interesting time in film history,” said Driskel, who teaches production in UCSB’s film studies department. From 1910 to 1920, it bridged the era of charming films — from primitives like those in Hugo to sophisticated films more like The Artist. “Flying A lived in the center of what I like to call cinema’s awkward years, its adolescence when movies didn’t quite know what they were doing but had a lot of energy and were heading off on their own,” he explained, laughing, “Of course, I like that, after spending most of my life teaching teenagers.”
Driskel was in his twenties when he began researching Flying A for his documentary, An American Film Company, when there were still a lot of studio people alive. “It was one of the biggest employers in town,” he explained. Driskel estimates the studio was making a film a day at its peak, though he estimates that 90 percent of them are lost forever.
Driskel will cohost Saturday’s screening with Neal Graffy, with musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Flying A Studio’s Centennial Celebration will be held at UCSB’s Pollock Theater on Saturday, July 7, from 3-6 p.m. For tickets and info, call 893-4637 or visit carseywolf.ucsb.edu/events.