When Roger Durling hired filmmaker Russ Spencer to curate a sidebar of films made by Santa Barbarans 12 years ago, the doors flung wide open for all manner of entries, from quite slick flicks to rather ragtag productions that showed flickers of promise. As serious Santa Barbara filmmakers sharpened their cinematic tools in the ensuing dozen years, technological advancements also allowed almost anyone to make a movie, so submissions to this locals-only sidebar surged. That’s forced Spencer, Durling, and the fest’s programming director, Michael Albright, to tighten up their selections in recent years — i.e., not everyone who submits gets in now. Said Albright, “There are far more films being submitted than we can show.”
But it’s also upped the ante so much that in 2015, for the first year ever, the Santa Barbara Filmmakers Sidebar will be a juried competition, with a $2,500 award and extra recognition going to whoever’s work is deemed best on Closing Night. “The goal is not to keep people out of the festival; it’s to spotlight the really great work and treat it the same as we would treat any of the great films in the festival,” said Albright. “It’s competitive, and we want to make sure that we keep the bar high to give it that extra weight and caliber.”
This year, the competition includes seven features: Generosity of Eye, Brad Hall’s documentary about the wealth of art that his father-in-law, William Louis-Dreyfus (Julia’s dad), gave to a Harlem nonprofit; Breach, Jonny Zwick’s doc about whaling in Iceland; Holbrook/Twain, Scott Teems look at Hal Holbrook’s 60 years as Mark Twain; Gardeners of Eden, Austin Peck and Anneliese Vandenberg’s doc about elephant poaching in Kenya; Secret Ocean 3D and Swain’s Island, both starring Jean-Michel Cousteau; and Energizing Our World, Susan Sember’s optimistic look at sustainable practices.
Do not forget about the 18 short films, where many future filmmakers cut their narrative and documentary teeth. From creative tales of pool mermaids (Ted Mills’s What a Pool Believes) and disturbing party trends (Benjamin Goalabré’s The Knockout Game) to eye-opening looks at aquaculture (Elvis Metcalf’s Mussel Man), the history of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens (Casey McGarry’s Grasshopper for Grandpa), and San Marcos High’s alumni theater revival (Lael Wageneck’s Time Warp), the shorts will entertain all types of film heads.