It has been 13 years since the late, great nature cinematographer Mike deGruy first started the Field Trip to the Movies tradition during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Charismatic and ever ready and willing to engage the youth with the magic of moviemaking, deGruy’s first “field trip” saw some 400 schoolchildren attend a free screening at the Museum of Natural History and enjoy an educational Q&A afterward. Now, while the formula is still much the same, the program has grown into an absolute monster and one of the festival’s most beloved and locally oriented endeavors.
What started as a simple opportunity to introduce kids to the basics of film is now a full educational program that includes classroom visits from moviemakers throughout the year, an upcoming summer camp program through the Boys & Girls Club and, of course, the field trip itself. Now known as Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies, the event sees some 4,400 Title I 5th and 6th graders from throughout the county get to see a free showing of an Oscar-nominated kids’ film at the Arlington Theatre during the festival and then enjoy a Q&A with the director immediately afterward.
The scene in and around the Arlington as dozens of school buses deliver schoolchildren and their teachers and then pick them up is a wondrous sight to behold and a far cry from the Field Trip’s humble beginnings. “It was the Avatar year when it really took off,” explained SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling. “Mike convinced his good friend James Cameron to come and show his movie and talk with the kids. That really put the program on steroids. It has been pretty easy to get big names and films involved ever since. It has really taken on a life of its own.”
Post-Avatar, the program has hosted notable directors Jennifer Lee (Frozen), Chris Miller and Phil Lord (The Lego Movie), Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3), and Gore Verbinski (Rango). This year, after careful consideration by Durling, the Field Trip will deliver director Pete Docter and his Oscar-nominated film about the voices inside your head, Inside Out. “It is surreal to me how, each year, Mike’s spirit continues to surround the program. You can feel it in the theater when the kids are there,” said Durling, who counted deGruy as one of his best friends. “The fact that his energy continues to fuel the program is spectacular.”