Two of the short documentaries showing on Closing Night — 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 SB 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.”
He answered a few more of my questions via email.
What made you start working on these two films?
I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen with the film festival this year or if there was even going to be one at all. I, for one, didn’t know if I had anything to offer, but then I realized if anybody did, I had to get my act together and do some work because there’s always a good story to tell in this town and I bet the film fest needed me most now. What else was I doing anyway during a pandemic besides eating microwavable mac and cheese and watching old episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
How did you get into roller skating?
I wrote a nonfiction essay on the roller skating group in Central Park in college, and I guess I’ve always had a fascination with roller skating because it just looks so cool.
My childhood friend Grant Nestor, who started the retro throwback corduroy shorts company in town called “Hammies,” also co-founded the rolling skating group here called SB Rollers in 2020 with a guy named Terrance Brown, who is one of the main characters in the film. I’ve been following the group since their beginning toward the onset of the pandemic and immediately thought it’d be cool to do a film project with them.
Then a few months back, I stumbled upon Ana Coffey’s story online in a Santa Barbara Memories forum on Facebook, and it was like discovering gold. I knew I had to track her down and find the bigger story — trace it to the beginning of roller skating on the beach in S.B. So, I packed up my truck and drove to Tucson, Arizona, where she’s been living since 2007, to visit with her and to document her story. That’s how the film Electric Lady came to be.
The film feels like it’s about much more than roller skating.
In such an appalling and tumultuous year that was 2020, with all the police brutality, protests, and unrest in the streets, not to mention again the seemingly never-ending pandemic, I felt that I had to tell this story now because how timely it was and everything it represented. Also, both Ana Coffey and Terrance Brown (the two main characters in my film) are black, and this is Santa Barbara, certainly not a place known for having a very large and diverse African-American population. Between the BLM movement and the roller skate boom of 2020, this was a film dying to be made.
Also, the SB Rollers’ skate meetup is every Sunday at the bottom parking at SBCC, and that’s where the drive-in screens are being built for the film festival, so Mickey Duzdevich (senior programmer at SBIFF) thought it’d be the perfect film to play this film in that setting, naturally.
Tell us about Vuja De.
Making Vuja De was just icing on the cake for me. Michael is a great artist and such a fascinating guy that he was an easy subject to make a film on. A Philadelphia transplant to S.B. and freelance writer, John Paul Titlow, who also is a producer on the film, introduced me to Michael and told me I had to see his art but especially his studio space, “The Rondo” (formerly artist Gary Chafe’s studio). The building is a character itself and a really neat artifact steeped in Santa Barbara history.