It’s impossible to accurately measure SBIFF’s impact on the growth of Santa Barbara’s filmmaking community, but the festival’s increased emphasis on education and exposure to cinema for all ages seems to bear more fruit every year. Even in the pandemic times of 2021, SBIFF is showcasing five feature films in the Santa Barbara Filmmaker category (and there’s a sixth with strong ties), as well as 25 shorts, broken into screenings of Live-Action, Mixer, and Documentary collections. Six short docs will get bright-lights treatment as Closing Night’s centerpiece screenings.
Here’s the rundown, and head to independent.com/sbiff2021 for extended filmmaker interviews on many of these.
Of all the features, none feels more “Santa Barbara” than Climb, a documentary by avid cyclist and triathlete Neil Myers, who was nearly killed in a bike-meets-windshield crash on Gibraltar Road. Instead of withering away, Myers tackles his recovery like an Olympian, and this doc — featuring interviews with family and medical pros and tons of iconic views of the Santa Ynez Mountains — recounts his odyssey to get back in the saddle and compete again.
Myers said it felt “cringe-worthy” at first to turn his tale into a film, and then he saw a short video that Cottage Hospital produced about his story that wowed a fundraiser crowd. “I realized the story wasn’t about me, but rather, it was about the amazing community that got me back to the finish line,” he said. “So I made the film as a way to give back — to help build better trauma centers and to provide money that could allow people less fortunate than I get the same kind of care.”
Evan Wood is a collaboration of Laguna Blanca graduates Niki Byrne, who directed the film, and Austin Danson, who scored it. The story follows a young writer who must return home after her grandmother’s passing, only to become caught up in helping her brother battle mental illness and addiction.
“Although Evan Wood is the lead, and it is his story, it’s told from the perspective of his sister, who tries to help him,” said Byrne, who is also a race car driver, helicopter pilot, and still photographer, and who took acting classes to better understand directing. “One of the ideas that the film communicates is that sometimes the friends and family of a person with these issues actually need to go back to their own lives and not try to fix the situation by making sacrifices.”
Mixing up sexuality, youth, homecoming, and escape, Highway One is about a New Year’s Eve party set in Cambria, where long-lost friends and messed-up lovers connect and disconnect. “This movie is such a love letter to California, and although mainly filmed in Southern California, I wanted it to be set somewhere rural, a small town that had a fishing village mentality but also felt like a fairy tale, an escape — a representation of something,” said director Jaclyn Bethany. “To me, Cambria stands in for a place we leave and go back to in our lives as changed people.”
Written and directed by Lane Michael Stanley, who was inspired by the six months they spent in rehab after the sudden death of a fiancé, Addict Named Hal is a well-acted dive into addiction and recovery. It was produced by the S.B.-based company Light Brigade Entertainment, run by Lowell Blank and Thane Swigart. “We have many film and TV projects in development, but Hal is our first production,” said Blank, who read Stanley’s play and started turning it into a short film four years ago, and then it blossomed into a feature. “I feel so incredibly lucky to have gone on this journey with Lane. We found an amazing cast of mostly unknowns and shot the film in Austin, Texas, in January 2020 before the lockdowns.”
The most politically powerful film in this collection is Revolution Generation, a documentary about the strong and expansive impact of the oft-ridiculed Millennial generation on American society. Narrated by actor Michelle Rodriguez and directed by Ojai residents Josh and Rebecca Tickell (whose recent film Kiss the Ground won much acclaim), it’s a deeply reported, stereotype-slaying film about generational cycles. They hope the film helps breed empathy between people of all ages.
“This is ultimately a film about connecting with one another in new ways so we can work together to do great things,” said Josh. ”The ‘revolution’ that the film speaks about is really a revolution of love, of the heart, and of deep opening. When we learn to love people who we typically judge, the world shifts.”
And though not technically filed under the Santa Barbara Filmmakers section, the world premiere of Coast will be very familiar to Central Coast viewers. Penned by screenwriter Cindy Kitagawa and produced by Wendy Guerrero — both Santa Maria natives — the film is about a 16-year-old girl who wants to leave her Santa Maria home with her rock-star boyfriend, so the filmmakers Jessica Hester and Derek Schweickart shot the film in that city as well as in Guadalupe, Grover Beach, and Avila Beach. “We wanted the writer’s Santa Maria experience to be on the screen, so to be able to give it back to the community is fun and very rewarding,” the directors said. Added Kitagawa of the storyline, “It was important for me to tell a story about girls from communities that we didn’t get to see growing up on screen.”
Closing Night Shorts
Four of the six shorts showing on Closing Night are Shepherd’s Song, Abigail Fuller’s visual stunner about the couple behind Cuyama Lamb, whose sheep are moved across the region to restore landscapes, provide firebreaks, and grow wool; Homecoming: Journey to Limuw, Nick Zachar’s doc about the Chumash legends around the Channel Islands that are celebrated during the annual paddle to Santa Cruz Island in a traditional tomol; Dist-Dance!, Michael Love’s reflection of the S.B. Dance Co-op’s socially distanced gatherings that have gone down during the pandemic; Hospice of Santa Barbara Presents: Manuel’s Story, a touching doc by Greg Kroes about Manuel Figueroa, whose love of music, memories of his recently passed wife, and help of Hospice S.B. helped him heal.
The remaining two films — Vuja De, about the miniature art of Michael Long, and Electric Lady, about the roller-skating legend Ana Marie Coffey and the recent rise of the S.B. Rollers — are both by Santa Barbara–raised filmmaker Casey McGarry. “Finding an inspiring, unique, and local story about an ordinary person who lives among us here in Santa Barbara has become an enjoyable hobby and pastime for me,” said McGarry, who’s been screening his shorts at SBIFF for the past half-dozen years. “There’s something really special about the now-running tradition — since 2017 — of the best local docs playing Closing Night, especially at a packed Arlington Theatre surrounded by all familiar faces. I think this year will be just as magical in such a cool and inventive space, like a drive-in at the beach.” ■