Roman Baratiak is probably best known locally as the tall, amiable fellow with conversational style who introduces films and speakers to Campbell Hall audiences at the University of California, Santa Barbara. These days he shares such pleasurable duties with others in the Arts & Lectures office and concentrates on the free summer film series, which will unroll this month at two venues, Campbell Hall and the county courthouse’s Sunken Gardens.
“I love the feeling of the courthouse and seeing people come in early from all directions to set up chairs and save spaces,” says Baratiak, who also enjoys the challenges afforded by a summer program that plays indoors and outdoors. The A&L’s associate director organized the series, which runs weekly in July and August on Wednesdays at UCSB with a repeat on Fridays at the courthouse.
Last year, the films’ theme was the musical, and this year it is science fiction from the 1950s. The first movie will be The Day the Earth Stood Still, showing only on Friday, July 6, and the series wraps on August 22 and 24 with the The Incredible Shrinking Man. Both are considered tops in the genre.
“I have eclectic tastes,” explains Baratiak, who launched the summer cinema program three years ago with inspiration and support from Ginny Brush, chief of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, as well as from several UCSB programs. The first series screened classic Universal Studios’ gothic morality tales from the 1930s and ‘40s, such as Dracula, Frankenstein , and The Wolf Man.
Asked why he chose old horror movies for the first summer outing, Baratiak smiles and says, “I just thought it would be fun to see all those [monster] faces together” on an advertising flyer.
Fun is a frequently cited criterion for his film selections. “We have to appeal to all ages, not get too heavy, and just have a fun factor,” he explains. He expects the science fiction movies to strike some as “campy,” and that’s fine with him, though he finds that fear of nuclear weapons and Cold War paranoia make the ‘50s “a strange period but really fascinating.”
He listens to others’ suggestions for the summer series but accepts responsibility for the final theme and individual film choices. Mostly, he relies on his gut feeling of what will appeal: “It’s all a roll of the dice,” he says. He does try to enhance the series’ attractiveness with added touches, such as this summer’s prescreening PowerPoint presentation of splashy covers from pulp sci-fi magazines. “There might even be a robot present,” he teases.
Little in Baratiak’s backstory would suggest an urge to become a movie impresario. He was raised Catholic in a Ukrainian neighborhood of Philadelphia and, by his own admission, “was not wildly enthusiastic about films.” In fact, the few movies he remembers seeing as a kid were in the local Polish lodge with Ukrainian subtitles.
One film scene he does recall was from a pirate movie (name unknown) and showed a man buried up to his scruffy chin in sand with the tide line relentlessly moving closer and closer. To young Roman, this seemed a particularly horrible way to go.
He also confessed that he is no fan of “scary movies” and could not watch The Omen to the end. Nominating slasher movies as a future summer theme probably would go over like a lead balloon.
Indeed, one consistent attraction of the series to Baratiak has been the stories’ aura of naiveté. “I like the innocence about these films that you don’t get anymore,” he said.
When UCSB hired Baratiak more than 30 years ago as its manager of films and lectures, he recognized he had a lot of catch-up research to do. Fortunately, he was a quick study and soon was up to speed for a key position in the A&L team, one that directly deals with the campus’s internal student and faculty audiences, as well as its external public.
The free summer series is only the latest manifestation of what years of Baratiak’s eclectic taste has contributed to Goleta and the South Coast. Since some of the courthouse showings have attracted more than an estimated 1,000 viewers, it looks like a lot of people agree with him.