The Arlington Theatre rolled out the red carpet last Thursday night, not for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (that’s later this week), but for a day-long screening of social justice films called the “Pop Up Film Festival.” The creation of filmmaker Daniel Bollag, the Festival was a one-day, 12-hour affair, with a series of seven films screening from noon to midnight with stops along the way for audience discussion, promotional tables in the lobby, a bar on the patio for guests, live music outside, and the aforementioned red carpet, which the Arlington extended out to the street.
“I didn’t really worry about turnout so much,” Mr. Bollag said as he took a quick break from the proceedings. “This is all about giving these films a voice. A lot of these films will not be shown in the normal film festivals.”
The majority of the films in the Fest were documentaries, though the opening film “The Suspect” touched on themes of racial profiling and crime, albeit within the thriller genre. For the rest, topics ranged from Afghani women’s prison and female empowerment to the criminalization of marijuana and the battle between states rights and federal law. A majority of the filmmakers were either from Santa Barbara, recently moved here, or related to our city in some way. Some films were getting a world premiere; others were coming to town bearing awards and accolades. (One, Emmanuel Itier’s “Femme” was turned down by SBIFF, then went on to win awards.)
However, one film that did screen at SBIFF in 2012, “Womb with a View” got a screening at the Pop-up Fest, having secured distribution. The film interviews women who have decided through medical fate or just choice to not have children.
“It’s thrilling to have something that you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into up on the screen,” said director Jennifer Miller. “When the opportunity turned up to be in this festival, we jumped at the chance. The more people see this the better.”
Ms. Miller noted that Mr. Bollag not only invited the film to screen on Thursday, but helped secure distribution for the film.
“Femme,” a documentary on bringing the feminine balance back to a world of over-masculine traits (violence and aggression, for example), screened in the evening. Director Emmanuel Itier was absent, called away for work, but some of the many psychologists and thinkers interviewed for the film turned up to represent the doc.
Dr. Lita Singer says that “men have to show their goddess nature and not just say, my gun is bigger than your gun.” (She added that she used a ruder word than gun, so use your imagination).
“I haven’t seen this on the big screen, so it will be cool to see it this way,” Dr. Singer said, “and to share it with my friends.”
Israeli filmmaker Meni Philip had an interesting story to tell, not just through his personal documentary “Let There Be Light,” but in his journey to Santa Barbara. The film details what happened to him when he decided to leave his ultra-orthodox Jewish faith. In Israel, the film shows, the ultra-orthodox live so cloistered that when he left he knew nothing: no English, no mathematics, no science, no basic ways of living. (He apologized for his English, because he’d only been learning it for a few years.)
But the interest went beyond the film, which had shown in heavy rotation on Israeli television: Mr. Philip found that he had a cousin in Santa Barbara, Daniel Bollag.
“Six months ago I met the family that I never knew I met, and I love them!” he said. “Santa Barbara and this theater, this is an amazing place!”
“I realize it’s Thursday and we started at noon,” said Mr. Bollag. “But the filmmakers feel good about this. And I’ve been amazed how many people have wanted to throw their hats into the ring, not just the filmmakers but the community.”
Mr. Bollag’s own doc, “Blood Ganja” was the most local of all the films, detailing the 2005 arrest of Joshua Braun, who ran the Hortipharm clinic and who ran afoul of the law, despite assurances from the state and the Fed that his medical marijuana store was following the letter of the law. (Braun was not in attendance, according to a family friend, because the events are still too distressing to witness). The pro-legalization group from Goleta “I Am not a Criminal” had reps inside and outside, manning a booth and selling T-shirts with their logo.
Attendance was healthy, but nowhere near the chaos about to descend next week. Mr. Bollag has plans to package the festival and take it on tour, bringing a bit of Santa Barbara to Denver and beyond.