Los Olivos film festival goes virtual during pandemic
NatureTrack, a nonprofit that provides field trips to classes, launches its annual film festival digitally Oct. 9-18. The festival showcases films from 21 countries — all with an environmental theme.
Normally the Los Olivos festival plays the selected entries alongside excursions, like bike tours and hikes. Guests get to explore the Santa Ynez Valley and then return to a theater to see international environments.
This year, NatureTrack will present the films online. Founder and director Sue Eisaguirre hopes the digital format will attract more international viewers. Some of the filmmakers have shared the links to family and friends who usually would not be able to attend.
Moviegoers can purchase passes for small blocks of films for $10 or an all-access pass for $100. The 72 films will be available for 10 days, through the festival’s Eventive website.
“It’s disappointing we can’t have it in-person for the excitement of a film festival and what it does for the community,” Ms. Eisaguirre told the News-Press. “But we potentially will have people watching the festival worldwide.”
She planned the festival for March before delaying it to October, in hopes the COVID-19 pandemic would clear.
“We just felt we couldn’t move forward, in the best interest of the community and the attendees,” she said. “It was so hard because the momentum was there, and we felt like it was going to turn the corner and turn a crowd.”
It’s only the third annual NatureTrack Film Festival, and the original date looked promising. The switch up has been expensive.
NatureTrack already prepared and purchased the materials, and it couldn’t use them anymore. The team changed the date on flyers and posters to avoid wasting materials and money.
Ms. Eisaguirre dropped the price of all-access passes for the virtual format. She emailed everyone who had already purchased and offered an additional pass or a refund, if they didn’t want the excess to be donated.
Passes can be transferred to the 2022 festival, which will be the next-in person event. The 2021 festival will again be virtual and will feature the best movies from the three festivals.
The film festival serves as a fundraiser for NatureTrack. The proceeds fund field trips for 1,000 to 1,500 students.
Director Eisaguirre and her team are still providing field trips, though they’ve had to be creative. NatureTrack provides virtual hikes to teachers so students can still experience a piece of nature. And through YMCA, they still take field trips out — with extra precautions.
Prior to COVID-19, it wasn’t very expensive to bus kids to the site. Now, NatureTrack provides charter buses with lots of empty seats so students can stay six feet apart.
Ms. Eisaguirre is optimistic that a virtual film festival can turn enough profit to keep up with last year’s financials.
Directors of two of the festival’s movies talked about their projects with the News-Press.
Director Preston Maag
Preston Maag directed “10 Miles Out” while finishing up his degree in film and media studies at UCSB.
He discovered a love of backpacking after his friend took him to Los Padres National Forest one weekend in February 2019. A feeling lingered after that trip. He knew he was onto something.
In April, he enrolled in GreenScreen, a selective class at UCSB aimed at making nature films. It clicked. He was going to film a documentary about backpacking while following groups through Los Padres.
“When I was able to put things on my back, I found a sense of freedom,” director Maag said. “You’re able to do more and get away from people.”
He hiked with a 40- to 50-pound pack of essentials and camera equipment. Spread across a few weekends, he totaled 60 miles with that weight.
Growing up in Orange County, he went camping with his family. He enjoyed it, and the trips inspired a goal to become a National Geographic photographer. He laughs at his childhood dream and said many kids probably shared the same wish.
But Mr. Maag started pursuing his dream from the time he was a teenager. He photographed wildlife and visited National Parks.
When he heard about NatureTrack Film Festival, he put it on a short list of festivals he planned on entering. He wishes he could be at the event in person, but he still is excited to be a part of the lineup.
“Virtual festivals are new, for sure, but what isn’t at this point?” he said. “I’m hoping people will remain curious. You get to be in your own home yet explore.”
He said he hopes “10 Miles Out” transports viewers to Los Padres. He describes a scene toward the end of the documentary where the backpackers sit around the fire, music playing in the background.
“The scene makes people feel a part of the group. It inspires people,” he said. “You’d be surprised what’s just 10 miles away.”
Director Jeff McLoughlin
“Carrizo Plain: A Sense of Place,” directed by Jeff McLoughlin, shows off a San Luis Obispo County location. Located on the other side of Los Padres, Carrizo Plain is one of the last pieces of California grassland remaining.
“It’s a microcosm of what California used to look like; that attribute alone made it something I wanted to see,” the Santa Barbara filmmaker said.
He first visited Carrizo in 2006, during a superbloom year. Yellow and purple flowers colored the landscape with the San Andreas Fault ripping through the center.
When the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature in Solvang approached him about making a film about the Carrizo Plain, Mr. McLoughlin excitedly got to work. The museum wanted him to interview a few artists that take inspiration from the plain, and he found three with around 30 years of experience with the landscape.
“One of the unique things about documentary filmmaking is you’re drawn to meet people you’d never come across in your day-to-day life,” he said. “I’d have to say the enjoyment of celebrating the beauty of the Carrizo through these three artists is the most exceptional thing.”
Whether flying above Carrizo Plain with photographer and pilot Bill Dewey or watching John Iwerks and his wife Chris Chapman paint, Mr. McLoughlin enjoyed the filming process.
“The thing about a film like this, when you think about it, you’re telling the story of a piece of land. The artists lend a creative perspective on what makes this place special,” he said.
To help get the sense of that place, cinematographer Elliott Lowndes used drones to film the Carrizo Plain. They complement Mr. Dewey’s aerial photography.
“To really get a sense of what the place is about, you have to get up in the air, whether it’s in a drone or from an airplane,” Mr. Lowndes told the News-Press earlier this year.
Mr. McLoughlin is glad the NatureTrack Film Festival found a way to share the various directors’ works, but he misses the in-person experience. He enjoys watching the audience and seeing if he timed the storyline well.
This is the first film of his to be accepted by NatureTrack, though he’s submitted previous works. He looks forward to future festivals where he can share his excitement in person.