The 805 keeps it reel: Local filmmakers at the film fest and how short documentaries show off our town

Ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, filmmaker Jim Knowlton and a team of scientists explore tiny Swains Island in "Swains Island: One of the Last Jewels on the Planet. SBIFF
Ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, filmmaker Jim Knowlton and a team of scientists explore tiny Swains Island in “Swains Island: One of the Last Jewels on the Planet.
SBIFF

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival brings Hollywood to our own backyard, but what about the filmmakers who are already here? The festival has long given our writers and directors their own sidebar to show off the many documentaries and fiction films produced here. Some come out of the many production courses available here, others from small production studios and others just have to make films by any means possible.

For the first time this year, SBIFF offers a prize for Best Santa Barbara Feature, and all the contestants are documentaries.

A quick bike ride through Santa Barbara's Funk Zone highlights some of the most popular spots in the film "Santa Barbara Funk Zone Ride."
A quick bike ride through Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone highlights some of the most popular spots in the film “Santa Barbara Funk Zone Ride.”
"Mussel Man" tells the story of Bernard Friedman, an innovative Santa Barbara mussel farmer, and his fight to sustain the only open-ocean farm on the West Coast.
“Mussel Man” tells the story of Bernard Friedman, an innovative Santa Barbara mussel farmer, and his fight to sustain the only open-ocean farm on the West Coast.
Two feature the ocean documentary powerhouse Jean-Michel Cousteau, who was honored last week for his decades of work along with his family. “Secret Ocean 3D” is a world premiere, directed by Mr. Cousteau and Holly Lohuis. “Swains Island: One of the Last Jewels on the Planet” explores this small part of American Samoa; it stars Mr. Cousteau and is directed by Jim Knowlton.

Georgia-born Scott Teems has brought “Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey,” about the long-time one-man show Hal Holbrook has performed as America’s finest humorist. (The actor is now much older than Mr. Twain ever reached, and keeps going.)

“Generosity of Eye” is a family documentary from actor and director (and Montecito resident) Brad Hall, featuring his wife Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose character comes to understand the depth of passion of her art-collecting father William, just as his collection is being turned from a private thing into public education for African-American children in the Harlem Children’s Zone.

Austin Peck and Anneliese Vandenberg bring “Gardeners of Eden,” an environmental documentary about Kenya’s David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is trying to preserve elephants and save them from poachers. Susan Sember’s “Energizing Our World” promotes alternative energy, and Montecito’s own Jonny Zwick has devoted “Breach,” his first feature after working in television, to saving the fin whale from being hunted to extinction.

What’s missing from the features is anything — apart from mailing addresses and area codes of the filmmakers — having to do with our city. For that, one must go to the shorts.

Some are self-explanatory from the titles, like the Go-Pro copter-shot “A Day in the Life of Santa Barbara” by Eric Foote, and the cycling-only “Santa Barbara Funk Zone Ride” by Jesse Natale, Eric Panofsky and Erik Fawcett .

Russ Spencer had spent many years programming shorts for the Film Fest, but this year he returns as a filmmaker, with “A Man’s Place,” a touching story about fathers, sons and a local barbershop many of us will recognize. Casey McGarry’s “Grasshopper for Grandpa” is another tribute to a gathering place — Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens — its history and how one longtime friend of the family rescued it from the dead. UCSB’s Blue Horizons program helped get “Mussel Man” — by Elvis Metcalf, Matt Mersel and Megan Schmidt — made; it’s a documentary on fisherman Bernard Friedman, who bucks regulation to tend to the only open-ocean mussel farm on the West Coast.

Lael Wageneck’s “Time Warp” shows what happens when over 80 alumni return to San Marcos High to put on a production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The Vera Cruz house designed by Jeff Shelton, that green house on Santa Barbara Street covered in paintings, gets its own self-titled documentary, directed by Christopher Jenkins and featuring many familiar faces. And Aron Ives’ portrait of “Working Artist: Erik Abel” is a short interview with the Ventura-based painter and sculptor, about his work and his love of nature.

Lastly, it might be worth mentioning the Short Narratives, although by press time, their two scheduled screenings will have already passed. (But possibly the Film Fest will schedule a third screening.) Apart from this own writer’s silent short comedy “What a Pool Believes,” there’s another silent film, “A Man, A Mustache” from UCSB’s Johnny Rafter; two films about sisters (“About Sisters” from Carissa Stutzman, and Hannah Pearl Utt’s “Sisters”); the return of animator Jessica Hokanson with a live-action cute tale of a cat and bunny solving crimes, “The Adventures of Bugsy McKay and Ralphy Jane”; a drama of overwork, “Chasing Fortune” from SBCC’s Nathaniel Grotenhuis; T.S. Meek’s Spanish-language “Distancia,” his second entry for SBIFF; the return of Benjamin Goalabré, who did well here with “Paradise Café” and now returns with the drama “The Knockout Game”; “Swiped,” Ojai resident Claudia Fucigna’s cross-generational epic; and the alcoholic drama “Vacant” from Tianna Jones.

As usual, keep your eye on sbiff.org for the latest schedule updates.

Santa Barbara Documentary Shorts
When: Thursday and Friday Feb. 6, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St.
Information: (805) 963-0023, www.sbiff.org

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