All posts by HollywoodGlee

I’m a veteran of several film festivals including the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, the American Film Institute's AFIFest Hollywood and AFI DOCS, the famed Venice International Film Festival, the San Luis Obispo SLO Film Fest, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's family of festivals including the SBIFF, the SBIFF Wave Festivals and the SBIFF Showcase Film Series. To date I’ve written and published over 100 film reviews and have work posted on four sites including sbccfilmreviews.org, imdb.com. I have also been published in Classic Film Images magazine. In addition to writing reviews and covering film festivals, I am currently seeking distribution for new films. I have contacts in several major markets including Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, and Cannes, France. So when you’re looking for your film to get noticed, remember HollywoodGlee can help. We have professional marketers, respected critics and the most knowledgeable contacts on what film festival and/or distribution channel is right for you and your film. See you at the movies!

SBIFF Modern Master Award Goes to Bill Murray

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Academy Award-nominated actor and American film legend Bill Murray received the prestigious Maltin Modern Master Award at the 36th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) Friday, April 2, 2021, in a live virtual tribute for his long-standing contributions to the film industry, most recently in the role of Felix Keane in Sofia Coppola’s ON THE ROCKS opposite Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans, for which he received Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice nominations.

After an exceptionally riveting musical score accompanying the introductory frames, SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling introduced the tribute that “honors an individual who has enriched our culture through accomplishments in the motion picture industry,” remarking Murray has been a Maltin Modern Master for years and this year was the year SBIFF bestowed the honor before giving way to the event’s moderator, Leonard Maltin.

In turn, Maltin introduced Murray including a montage of clips providing a warm fuzzy retrospective with some of Murray’s more memorable characters. Laments of not having an audience registered.

 

Nevertheless, hearing and listening to these two motion picture industry giants discussing a career that spans five decades with background details and anecdotes of Murray’s career was not diminished in the virtual format. Quite the opposite as Sofia Coppola popped in with an effervescence followed closely by her brother, Roman Coppola. As the Coppolas joined the conversation so did a wave of nostalgia as though the passing of the torch was occurring between generations.

The Maltin Modern Master Award is the highest award SBIFF bestows and Bill Murray was given his due this evening for decades of entertaining audiences across the globe.

Leonard Maltin celebrated his 31st year moderating at SBIFF. And, the Coppola siblings, Sofia and Roman, added a depth of presence to the special moment in time.

The event was presented by the Manitou Fund.

The 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG, will continue through April 10th, 2021, online and with the two ocean-front drive-ins sponsored by TOYOTA. Tickets and passes are available at SBIFF.org.

Made For Love

Posted by larry Gleeson

Based on the novel by Alissa Nutting, the MADE FOR LOVE comedy series is a darkly absurd, somewhat dystopian, and cynically poignant story of love and divorce following Hazel Green (Cristin Milioti), a thirty-something woman on the run after 10 years in a suffocating marriage to Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), a controlling, Orwellianesque tech billionaire.

Cristin Milioti, pictured above, stars as Hazel Green, a thirty-something woman on the run after 10 years in a suffocating marriage to a controlling tech billionaire who has implanted a monitoring device – the Made for Love chip – in her brain, allowing him to track her, watch her, and know her “emotional data” as she tries to regain her independence. (Photo courtesy of Warner Media)

In a nutshell, Hazel discovers that her husband has implanted a monitoring device – the Made for Love chip – in her brain, allowing him to track her, watch her, and know her “emotional data” as she tries to regain her independence. Through the chip, Byron’s able to watch Hazel’s every move as she flees to her desert hometown to take refuge with her aging widower father Herbert (Ray Romano) and his synthetic partner, Diane.

Cristin Milioti, pictured above, stars as Hazel Green, a thirty-something woman on the run after 10 years in a suffocating marriage to a controlling tech billionaire who has implanted a monitoring device – the Made for Love chip – in her brain, allowing him to track her, watch her, and know her “emotional data” as she tries to regain her independence. (Photo courtesy of Warner Media)

Milioti is a compelling screen presence force as Hazel and comes across as a female embodiment of a mega superstar Tom Cruise.

In addition to Cristin Milioti, Made for Love starts Billy Magnussen as Byron Gogol, the controlling tech billionaire. husband. Other actors include Dan Bakkedahl, Noma Dumezweni, Augusto Aguilera, Caleb Foote, and Ray Romano.

The series is executive produced by Christina Lee, Alissa Nutting, Patrick Somerville, Dean Bakopoulos, Liza Chasin, and SJ Clarkson. Christina Lee is the showrunner and Paramount Television Studios is the studio. Stephanie Laing directed the pilot and is a Co-EP. The season was directed by Laing and Alethea Jones.

Made for Love premiered on HBOMax on April 1st, with episodes 1-3. Episodes 4-6 of the Max Original are set to debut on April 8th, and the season concludes with two episodes scheduled to drop on April 15th.

Excellent writing, strong narrative, well-executed comedic timing, the high-tech futuristic setting, and the highly compelling work of Milioti make Made for Love the HollywoodGlee Critics Choice for this week’s episodic viewing!

SBIFF Opens to Sold Out Drive-in Screenings

Posted by Larry Gleeson

I shouldn’t have expected anything less than SOLD OUT screenings for the 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) Opening Night Film, Invisible Valley. SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling, looking debonnaire in a black-tie tuxedo, started off the evening with an introductory note emphasizing the words of community, optimism, positivity, and hope, then thanked the city of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara City College, Lynda Weinman, Bruce Heavin, and the SBIFF Staff for their support and efforts in bringing this year’s live/virtual hybrid event to fruition before introducing the director of Invisible Valley, Aaron Maurer. Maurer proceeded to introduce his film, Invisible Valley, as the 2021 SBIFF Opening Night Film.

Post-Opening Night screen in the lower Santa Barbara City College Stadium Lot for the 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival sponsored by UGG, March 31, 2021. The festival runs, March 31st – April 10th, 2021, online and with two ocean-front “state of the art” drive-ins sponsored by TOYOTA! Tickets and passes are available at SBIFF.org. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)

I viewed the Opening Night Film, Invisible Valley, on the Stadium Screen in the Santa Barbara City College lower lot next to the football stadium. The quality was as good as some of the extreme definition screenings I’ve seen. I also heard several wishful comments that the festival and/or the city keep the screens and continue making film viewings community events! They’ll get no complaints from me. In the meantime, stay tuned for more on Invisible Valley and the multitude of highly curated films of the 2021 edition of SBIFF.

As luck would have it, I had bumped into SBIFF Operations Director Sean Pratt at the downtown Cajun Kitchen location a few days ago. With bated breath, Pratt seemed cautiously optimistic over the deployment of the high-end, “state-of-the-art” drive-in screens. Quite the understatement! Check ’em out….you’ll be glad you did!

The 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG, will continue through April 10th, 2021, online and with the two ocean-front drive-ins sponsored by TOYOTA. Tickets and passes are available at SBIFF.org.

 

Oscar-laden Nominees on SBIFF Industry Panels

Posted by Larry Gleeson

In addition to the A-list, Oscar-nominee-laden Tributes, and the well-curated film program, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) Industry Panels are another key component of what makes the festival so special.  The Writers Panel is arguable the hottest ticket to come by followed closely by the Women’s Panel and the Producers Panel.

Producers Panel – Saturday April 3rd @ 11:00am
Writers Panel – Saturday April 3rd @ 2:00pm
Women’s Panel – Thursday April 8th @ 2:00pm
Panelists listed below!

The Producers Panel brings together some of the industry’s leading producers to provide insight into the business as well as the creative sides of producing. The Producers Panel will be a live-streamed event Saturday, April 3 @ 11:00am, moderated by Glenn Whipp. Panelists include:

Christina Oh (Minari)
Ceán Chaffin (Mank)
Dan Janvey (Nomadland)
David Parfitt (The Father)
Josey McNamara (Promising Young Woman)
Marc Platt (The Trial of the Chicago 7)
Sacha Ben Harroche (Sound of Metal)
Shaka King (Judas and the Black Messiah)

The Writers Panel brings top writers together to converse about what it takes to write a script and about their journeys to the big screen. The Writers Panel will be a live-streamed event Saturday, April 3 @ 2:00pm, moderated by Anne Thompson. Panelists include:

Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7)
Darius Marder (Sound of Metal)
Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman)
Florian Zeller (The Father)
Kemp Powers (Soul)
Kenny and Keith Lucas (Judas and the Black Messiah)
Lee Isaac Chung (Minari)
Peter Baynham (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm)
Ramin Bahrani (The White Tiger)

Women from all stages of film production come together to discuss the unique challenges they have faced and successes they have had in the film industry. The Women’s Panel will be a live-streamed event Thursday, April 8 @ 2:00 pm, moderated by Madelyn Hammond. Panelists include:

Dana Murray (Soul – Producer)
Elvira Lind (The Letter Room – Writer/Director)
Garret Bradley (Time – Director)
Kori Rae (Onward – Producer)
Madeline Sharafian (Pixar’s Burrow – Director)
Michele Couttolenc (Sound of Metal – Sound Design)
Tiara Thomas (Fight For You – Co-Writer Oscar nominated song from “Judas and the Black Messiah”)
Trish Summerville (Mank – Costume Design)

“Look at that line-up! All the movies nominated for the Oscars are represented.  The panels have always had a special place in our hearts, and this year’s slate is possibly the best ever!” commented Roger Durling, SBIFF‘s Executive Director.

Passes and tickets available at https://sbiff.org/

The 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG, will take place March 31st through April 10th, 2021, online and at two free ocean-front drive-in theatres.

INDUSTRY PANEL SERIES IS ANNOUNCED AT 2021 SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Posted by Larry Gleeson

SANTA BARBARA, CA (March 31, 2021) – The 36th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is thrilled to announce this year’s panelists for the always riveting Industry Panel series.

In addition to the A-list, Oscar-nominee-laden Tributes, and the well-curated film program, the SBIFF Industry Panels are another key component of what makes the festival so special.  The Writers Panel is arguable the hottest ticket to come by followed closely by the Women’s Panel and the Producers Panel.

“Look at that line-up! All the movies nominated for the Oscars are represented. The panels have always had a special place in our hearts, and this year’s slate is possibly the best ever!” commented Roger Durling, SBIFF’s Executive Director.

The Producers Panel brings together some of the industry’s leading producers to provide insight into the business as well as the creative sides of producing. The Producers Panel will be a live-streamed event Saturday, April 3 at 11:00 am PT, moderated by the Los Angeles Times’ Glenn Whipp. Panelists include Shaka King (Judas and the Black Messiah), Christina Oh (Minari), Ceán Chaffin (Mank), Dan Janvey (Nomadland), David Parfitt (The Father), Josey McNamara (Promising Young Woman), Marc Platt (The Trial of the Chicago 7), and Sacha Ben Harroche (Sound of Metal)

The Writers Panel brings top writers together to converse about what it takes to write a script and about their journeys to the big screen. The Writers Panel will be a live-streamed event Saturday, April 3 at 2:00 pm PT, moderated by Indiewire’s Anne Thompson. Panelists include Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Darius Marder (Sound of Metal), Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Florian Zeller (The Father), Kemp Powers (Soul and One Night in Miami), Kenny and Keith Lucas (Judas and the Black Messiah), Lee Isaac Chung (Minari), Ramin Bahrani (The White Tiger), and Peter Baynham (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm).

Women from all stages of film production come together to discuss the unique challenges they have faced and successes they have had in the film industry. The Women’s Panel will be a live-streamed event Thursday, April 8 at 2:00 pm PT, moderated by Madelyn Hammond. Panelists include Dana Murray (Soul – Producer), Elvira Lind (The Letter Room – Writer/Director), Garret Bradley (Time – Director), Kori Rae (Onward – Producer), Madeline Sharafian (Pixar’s Burrow – Director), Michele Couttolenc (Sound of Metal – Sound Design), Trish Summerville (Mank – Costume Design), and Tiara Thomas (Fight For You – Co-Writer Oscar-nominated song from “Judas and the Black Messiah).

The 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG, will take place March 31st through April 10, 2021, online and at two free ocean-front drive-in theatres sponsored by Toyota. More information, festival passes, and tickets are available at www.sbiff.org.

*Featured image: Pre-festival screen checks in the lower Santa Barbara City College lots for the 2021 Santa Barbara International Film Festival (Photo by Larry Gleeson)

About the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Over the past 35 years, SBIFF has become one of the leading film festivals in the United States – attracting 100,000+ attendees and offering 11 days of 200+ films, tributes, and symposiums, fulfilling their mission to engage, enrich, and inspire the Santa Barbara community through film.

In 2016, SBIFF entered a new era with the acquisition of the historic and beloved Riviera Theatre. After a capital campaign and renovation, the theatre is now SBIFF’s new state-of-the-art, year-round home, showing new international and independent films every day. In 2019, SBIFF opened its own Education Center in downtown Santa Barbara on State Street to serve as a home for its many educational programs and a place for creativity and learning.

(Press release provided by Michelle Tarangelo, SBIFF Press Office, )

April 5th at SBIFF: Variety’s seventh annual Artisans Awards

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Variety’s seventh annual Artisans Awards celebrating those essential to the filmmaking process and who have exhibited the most exciting and innovative work of the year in their respective fields will take place virtually at 6 P.M., April 5th, during the 36th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

The event will be moderated by Variety’s Senior Artisans Editor Jazz Tangcay and the Variety Artisans Award will be presented to Alan Baumgarten, Nicolas Becker, Alexandra Byrne, Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale, Sean Faden, Mia Neal, Leslie Odom Jr., Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and Joshua James Richards.

Alan Baumgarten for Netflix’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” sees the editor reunite with screenwriter and director Aaron Sorkin. Baumgarten won an Emmy for his work on 2008’s “Recount.” He received an Academy Award nomination for 2013’s “American Hustle.”

Nicolas Becker earned a BAFTA nomination for Best Sound for his work on Amazon’s “Sound of Metal.”  Becker has over 263 credits which include “Arrival,” “Ex Machina” and “Gravity.

Costume Designer Alexandra Byrne has four Oscar nominations and won the Best Achievement in Costume Design for her work on 2008’s “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” Byrne will be honored for her most recent work on the Focus Features release, “Emma” starring Anya Taylor Joy.

Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale are the teams behind “Mank’s” production design and set design. Together they transformed locations and sets for David Fincher’s Netflix drama which tells the story of how Herman J. Mankiewicz wrote the screenplay for “Citizen Kane.” Set during the Golden Age of Hollywood, Burt and Pascale recreated Hearst Castle and transformed modern-day studio backlots into days of Hollywood past.

Visual Effects Supervisor Sean Faden contributed to Disney’s “Mulan.” Faden along with the team at Weta Digital helped transform Gong Li into a witch and built some of the location shots for the film’s Imperial City.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” hair department head Mia Neal is on a solid path to making Oscar history if the Netflix contender lands a nomination for Hair and Makeup. Neal will be the first Black Oscar nominee in the category. Her previous credits include “Uncut Gems” and “The Longest Week.”

Grammy Award and Tony Award-winner Leslie Odom Jr. is a triple threat this season. He’s starring in “Hamilton” on Disney Plus and in Regina King’s “One Night in Miami” (Amazon) where he plays Sam Cooke. He’s also a contender in the original song category along with fellow songwriter Sam Ashworth. The two wrote “Speak Now” which plays over the film’s end credits.  They previously collaborated on Odom Jr.’s 2019 album “Mr.”

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross will be honored for their work in two films, Netflix’s “Mank” and Pixar Animation’s “Soul”. The two won an Academy Award for their work on “The Social Network”.

Joshua James Richards for Fox Searchlight’s “Nomadland.” Richards has worked on short films such as “Boneshaker” and “Glory Days.” “Nomadland” marks his third collaboration with filmmaker Chloe Zhao. The two previously collaborated on “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” and “The Rider.”

The 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG, will take place March 31st through April 10th, 2021, online and at two free ocean-front drive-in theatres. More information, festival passes, and tickets are available at www.sbiff.org.

 

Delroy Lindo to receive the illustrious American Riviera Award at the 36th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Delroy Lindo is set to receive the illustrious American Riviera Award at the 36th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, April 8, 2021, and will be recognized for his many attributes to the art of film over the years, most recently, for his work in Spike Lee’s DA 5 BLOODS from Netflix.

An emotional Roger Durling, SBIFF Director, on the red carpet speaking about the Opening Night Film ‘Diving Deep: The Life And Times Of Mike deGruy’ during 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the historic Arlington Theatre, January 31, 2019, in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

SBIFF’s Executive Director Roger Durling. said, “I’ve been a big fan of Delroy since I saw him on stage on August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” in 1988. He’s one of cinema’s most indelible actors.  This is an overdue recognition,”

Delroy Lindo can currently be seen in Spike Lee’s critically acclaimed film Da 5 Bloods available on Netflix.  Lindo has had memorable roles in films such as The Cider House Rules; Heist; and previously garnered critical acclaim in a trio of films with director, Lee: Clockers; Crooklyn and Malcolm X. He’ll be seen next in the Netflix film, The Harder They Fall.

On TV, Lindo appeared for 4 seasons as Adrian Boseman in CBS’ The Good Fight.

He debuted on Broadway, in Master Harold and the Boys; received Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations, playing Herald Loomis in August Wilson’s, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone; and played Walter Lee in the Kennedy Center and Los Angeles productions of A Raisin in the Sun (Helen Hayes Award Nomination and NAACP Image Award, Best Actor).

Mr. Lindo has an Honorary Doctorate in Arts and Humanities from Virginia Union University; a BFA degree from San Francisco State University; and an MFA from New York University’s Gallatin School.

The American Riviera Award was established to recognize actors who have made a significant contribution to American Cinema. Previous recipients include Renée Zellweger, Viggo Mortenson, Sam Rockwell, Jeff Bridges, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Robert Redford, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Annette Bening, Sandra Bullock, Mickey Rourke, Tommy Lee Jones, Forrest Whitaker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane.

The 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG, will take place March 31st through April 10th, 2021, online and at two free ocean-front drive-in theatres. More information, festival passes, and tickets are available at www.sbiff.org.

Noteworthy Performances Dot 2021 Santa Barbara Virtuosos

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm), Kingsley Ben-Adir (One Night in Miami), Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday), Sidney Flanigan (Never Rarely Sometimes Always), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), Tahar Rahim (The Mauritanian), and Zendaya (Malcolm & Marie) are set to receive the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Virtuosos Award presented by UGG®, on Saturday, April 3rd, during the festival.

SANTA BARBARA, CA – FEBRUARY 05: Moderator Dave Karger, Sam Elliot, Steven Yeun, John David Washington, Thomasin McKenzie, Richard E. Grant, Claire Foy and Elsie Fisher speak onstage at the Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG during the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Arlington Theatre on February 5, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for SBIFF)

The Virtuosos Award is an honor created to recognize a select group of talent whose noteworthy performances in film have elevated them into the national cinematic dialogue. The tribute will be moderated for the 11th year by Turner Classic Movies host and IMDb special correspondent host Dave Karger.

“Even though the movie industry was turned upside down in 2020, this year’s impressive—and international—roster of Virtuosos proves that there is still a great deal of exciting rising talent delivering wonderful work. I can’t wait to gather this phenomenal group and introduce them to the Santa Barbara audience,” says Dave Karger.

The last two year’s Virtuosos have included Awkwafina, Taron Egerton, Cynthia Erivo, Beanie Feldstein, Aldis Hodge, George MacKay, Florence Pugh, Taylor Russell, Yalitza Aparicio, Sam Elliott, Elsie Fisher, Claire Foy, Richard E. Grant, Thomasin McKenzie, John David Washington, and Steven Yeun.

The 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG, will take place March 31st through April 10th, 2021, online and at two free ocean-front drive-in theatres. More information, festival passes, and tickets are available at www.sbiff.org.

(Sourced from SBIFF news release)

Carey Mulligan getting SBIFF Cinema Vanguard Award

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Carey Mulligan is set to receive the Cinema Vanguard Award at the 36th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). Mulligan will be honored on April 5th and will be recognized for her remarkable career and most recent performance in Focus Features’ dark comedy Promising Young Woman written, produced, and directed by Emerald Fennell (Killing Eve, The Crown).

Mulligan’s performance in Promising Young Woman has already garnered significant awards recognition, including Best Actress from the National Board of Review, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and over 20 national and regional critics groups around the country. She has also received nominations for Best Actress from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild®, and the Critics’ Choice Association.

An emotional Roger Durling, SBIFF Director, on the red carpet speaking about the Opening Night Film ‘Diving Deep: The Life And Times Of Mike deGruy’ during 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the historic Arlington Theatre, January 31, 2019, in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said, “I saw Mulligan on stage in 2008 in ‘The Seagull’—she was such a magnetic combination of fearlessness and vulnerability there, and she continues to instill awe in all of us.  She delivers her best work so far in Promising Young Woman.

In Promising Young Woman, nothing in Cassie’s (Mulligan) life is what it seems. Following a mysterious event that abruptly derailed her future, she lives a secret double life, until an unexpected encounter gives her the chance to right the wrongs of the past in what will surely be a day of reckoning for everyone.

The Cinema Vanguard Award recognizes actors who have forged their own path, taking artistic risks and making a significant and unique contribution to film.

Previous honorees include Laura Dern, Michael B. Jordan, William DeFoe, Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Rooney Mara, Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Amy Adams, Jean Dujardin, Bernice Bejo, Nicole Kidman, Peter Sarsgaard, Christoph Waltz, Vera Farmiga, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stanley Tucci and Ryan Gosling.

The 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG, will take place March 31st through April 10th, 2021, online and at two free ocean-front drive-in theatres. More information, festival passes, and tickets are available at www.sbiff.org.

HollywoodGlee Speaks with INVISIBLE VALLEY filmmakers Aaron Maurer and Zachary McMillan

Posted by Larry Gleeson

This year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival presented by UGG, will open on March 31, 2021, with Invisible Valley, showcasing the work of Director Aaron Maurer and Producer Zachary McMillan.

Invisible Valley is set in the Coachella Valley: world-renowned for its extravagant golf resorts, unmatched winter weather, and A-list celebrity music festivals, projecting an image of money, class, and fame. From its earliest days as a health resort and continuing through a century of rapid growth and expansion, the Valley has retained its richly earned status as one of the leading winter playgrounds in the U.S., and the most desirable golfing destinations in the world. A prime affluent-tourist magnet demands caviar standards of taste and excellence and the Coachella Valley delivers.

Yet this outward image of luxury and leisure masks another reality. Field workers – many of them undocumented – constitute a large part of the Valley’s population. Living outside the gates of success, these immigrants bear the burden of harvesting a large amount of our country’s food source. Second and third jobs are common, and when the vacationing season ends and the crops have been harvested, most families must uproot their children, and travel north for the next season’s harvest. Many workers sleep in their trucks or in the fields, while others struggle to ensure housing for their families. The disruption to the stability of these families has resulted in poverty and puts the children into a category of risk across the board.

Invisible Valley weaves together the disparate stories of undocumented farmworkers, wealthy snowbirds, and music festival-goers over the course of a year in California’s Coachella Valley.  In exploring the history as well its imperiled future, the film uncovers an imminent environmental and social crisis and the looming consequences for the people who call it home.

What follows is a question and answer (Q&A) session by film critic Larry Gleeson (“LG”) with Director Aaron Maurer (“AM”) and Producer Zachary McMillan (“ZM”) on the film, the actors, the filmmakers’ sensibilities on making the film, and the impactful discoveries they made extending across the State of California and into the County of Santa Barbara.

 

Q & A with Director Aaron Maurer and Producer Zachary McMillan

 

LG: What initially sparked the idea for this story?

AM: I first got involved when Zach approached me with an initial idea; let’s look at the residents of the Coachella Valley as ‘migrants’ traveling in and out through the seasons. The word ‘Migrant’ has taken on such a loaded meaning over the last few years especially, that simple reframing of the word was a really interesting place to start from and generated a lot of ideas and questions. I knew right away there was something worth digging deeper into. From that launching point, we were able to weave a lot of ideas together and find stories in the Valley that added a sense of humanity and emotion to the conceptual ideas.

LG: Why did you decide to focus the story around the Coachella Valley and the migrant underclass? 

 ZM: Aaron and I both grew up in the Midwest, in Minneapolis, which is known for its winters and is the habitat of quite a few Snowbirds – people who head to warmer climates during the coldest months. My mother-in-law, Mary Ingebrand-Pohlad, is one such Snowbird and has been going to the Palm Springs area for the greater part of her adult life. However, about a decade ago she read an advertisement on her church bulletin for a program called Read With Me in Palm Desert. She then volunteered in this literacy advocacy program and was amazed by how many students in the Valley came from migrant farm working families. Suddenly her eyes opened to a new world: one that had almost literally existed across the street from her own community. As she became more involved with the schools and became closer to the students and the teachers, she increasingly felt the desire to make a bigger impact, and eventually, this led her to think that a documentary could be the best medium to show the other side of a place that is world-renowned for its golf courses and music festivals. After she talked to me about this idea, I went exploring around the Valley, driving out to the unincorporated town of Mecca trying to meet people, talk to people and realized there was something fascinating, and fascinatingly complex, about the relationships that exist in that area… of course things change a bit when you bring cameras around. But we were lucky enough to meet incredible people who welcomed us into their lives, into their homes. It’s still almost staggering that they did this.

LG: How much research and preparation did you do before starting?

AM: This was our first documentary and it really was a trial by fire. We had no script, no outline even, it was just a matter of spending time in the communities of the Valley and getting as much footage as we could. There was little planning you could do in advance because you are working with migrant families who are living on the move and below the poverty line, they don’t always access to phone or internet. So, we needed to be there meeting people and making connections. Gradually ideas started to form around how this mosaic of people and themes could fit together.

LG: What most surprised you about the Coachella Valley and those featured in Invisible Valley?

 ZM: The Coachella Valley is an extreme place, and yet the most surprising thing for me was the day-to-day reality of those extremes. In the grocery store, when you think about how the food, how the produce and the vegetables actually arrived there in front of you, it is possible to imagine the fields, the labor, the picking, and the packaging that goes into it. It is possible but it is completely abstract. Spending time with families that actually do this work, waking up at four in the morning, getting to the bell pepper fields before sunrise, and working into the heat that gets up to 110, 120 degrees Fahrenheit, is surprising. It is surprising when, after that day of work, they would invite us home, make dinner, welcome us like family.

LG: What was a particular challenge you faced while making the film?

AM: The places where we received the most pushback were certainly from the farm owners. Some of the key imagery in the film is of the harvests and we didn’t get any footage of that until after a year of filming. There was a constant fear that we were coming to expose something, although that wasn’t our angle, there just wasn’t any trust there or interest in ‘helping’. Eventually, we made connections to some smaller farms that allowed us in and I’m so grateful we got to capture a bit of the reality of that work.

Why are documentary films so vitally important in today’s world?

ZM: Documentary as a genre is becoming more and more popular, and in turn more and more documentaries are going to be made. As a form, filmmakers will continue pushing what documentary “is” and what it can mean – pushing against what it means to be a nonfiction film – and this is an exciting time for any art form. I don’t know if documentary is specifically more important in today’s world than any other day’s world, but certainly with the heightened attention on it, substantive, thoughtful, challenging, expansive, or otherwise good documentaries are more important than ever

LG: How did you find and connect with the subjects you profiled in your film?

 ZM: It really took time and patience, and then more time. As complete outsiders to the East side of the Valley, we needed to just kind of hang around enough, for long enough, to alert people that we were more than tourists. We needed to meet people, engage with people, and earn people’s trust. One person might introduce us to another person, and then that would lead to another person, but almost all of this wouldn’t be filmed. Over time, we became friends, real friends, with people that lived and worked in the area, and that is when people began to open up a bit: by people vouching for us, lending us their credit. The school teachers Sky and Jose Gijon, Hernan Quintas, who became our field producer, were instrumental. And it wasn’t until we met Angelica Ortiz-Cichocki, our (brilliant and sensitive and nuanced) translator and language consultant, that the interviews really started to feel like a connection.

LG: What challenges did you experience filming in private community settings in an area that values privacy? 

AM: I’d say that most people were hesitant, at best, to be on camera. Between undocumented workers and extremely wealthy folks in the resorts, we had a lot of initial pushback. It took time to gain trust and it usually took a connection of some kind that we’d formed through meeting people along the way. The farmworkers and folks in the East valley, although hesitant at first, were very quick to warm up once they realized we were honestly interested in hearing their stories. By the end of the day, we’d be treated like an extended member of the family. That certainly wasn’t the case when filming at the resorts. There’s so many security, privacy issues, there’s a fear there that we were there to exploit something. And it was actually the opposite. One of our main goals was to not vilify anyone in the film, it’s easy to make rich people look bad if you’re contrasting them with poverty, but it’s a cheap shot. It’s not reflective of the real issues.

LG: Why are documentary films so vitally important in today’s world?

 ZM: Documentary as a genre is becoming more and more popular, and in turn, more and more documentaries are going to be made. As a form, filmmakers will continue pushing what documentary “is” and what it can mean – pushing against what it means to be a nonfiction film – and this is an exciting time for any art form. I don’t know if  documentary is specifically more important in today’s world than any other day’s world, but certainly, with the heightened attention on it, substantive, thoughtful, challenging, expansive, or otherwise good documentaries are more important than ever.

LG: What do you want viewers to learn from seeing your film?

AM: I hope people will be inspired to think differently about the communities around them they see as ”other”. It’s very easy for us to live in our own bubbles, social media and quarantine can amplify those echo chambers, but can also be tools for understanding our neighbors if used with the right intention. As human beings, we all have blinders on some of the time, how else could we get through the day? But it’s important to know they’re on and take them off every once in a while. Although sometimes it may not seem like it, we’re all on this journey together.

LG: What reaction to the film do you expect at SBIFF?

 ZM: There are so many parallels between the Coachella Valley and Santa Barbara and the neighboring areas. Almost all the people we spoke with moved up to more central or northern California as the seasons and the harvests changed. I expect people will see something very familiar in the film, but hopefully, it will spark conversations that come from seeing something from a different angle, in a different light, at a slant.

LG: What does it feel like to bring the film to SBIFF?

AM: It’s really exciting to open SBIFF, this project has been many years in the making so we’re thrilled to be able to start sharing it with audiences and believe Invisible Valley will really resonate with the community in Santa Barbara.

The 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG, will take place March 31st through April 10th, 2021, online and at two free ocean-front drive-in theatres. More information, festival passes, and tickets are available at www.sbiff.org.

Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the drive-in!

Larry Gleeson at the Hollywood Drive-in Cinema in the heart of Hollywood, Calif., for the special screening of Philippe Lecote’s epic drama, Night of the Kings, Friday, January 8, 2021. (Photo by Valerie Rapalee)

(*Photos and intro material courtesy of Linda Brown, Indie-PR)