The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is only six days away and Thursday afternoon it unveiled two things — one traditional, one new.
The first was the press conference for the 15th annual 10-10-10 Student Filmmaking Contest participants — 10 students each from local high schools and colleges.
The second, the brand new, was the location: the soft opening of SBIFF’s Education Center. Located at 1330 State Street in the same Hutton Parker Foundation-owned building as many other non-profits like Ensemble Theater and Opera Santa Barbara, it now has nine conference rooms at its disposal for small classes, workshops, and a library of films.
But that is all in the post-festival future. The business of Thursday was introducing the filmmakers to the press.
The high school screenwriters were: Elena Lehne-Calzada (Santa Barbara High), Simona Zaunius (Santa Barbara High), Spike Miller (Alta Vista Alternative), and Ryo Nishimura (Santa Barbara High). The directors: Atakan Uysal (Santa Barbara High), Kai Wilkinson (Santa Barbara High), Maya Lewandowski (San Marcos High), and Isabella Escobedo (Santa Ynez High). Another Santa Barbara High student Santiago Bailey-Mussachio, was chosen to be both screenwriter and director of his film.
In the college categories, the screenwriters are Aashka Pandya, Allie Mittelstet, Cameron Leingang, Maximilian Merrit, Stephanie Foster, and Ethan Steiner. All save Steiner are from UCSB, Steiner is from SBCC. The directors are Charles Stock, Daoji Yang, Wei Xia, and Xinyi Wu—all from UCSB.
Traditionally, the 10 teams used to have only 10 days to shoot a 10-minute films, but over the last couple of years that has changed. Now the filmmakers start pre-production in November as writers and directors team up, work with mentors on polishing scripts and planning shoots, take early January to shoot for a few days, and then put the finishing touches on their edit by the end of this week.
Final films then get shown at the Arlington on the last day of the festival, Feb. 9, free to the public.
This year the genres and subjects are varied. There are romantic comedies, two sci-fi shorts in the mold of “Black Mirror”, horror films, comedies and lots of dramas. There are films about finding your dream, or getting that dream crushed; of trying to fit in among peers, or about being an outcast; about dead pets and new chances on life. Some students even helped each other with the films.
Maximilian Merrit wrote the drama “Rest Stop”— about two brothers on a fraught road trip—but also stepped in to produce “Here to Help,” directed by Stephanie Foster and written by Cameron Leingang.
“I’m friends with them and wanted to be on a set again,” Merritt said. And he was needed as the planned shoot days coincided with a rainy January.
“Ours is less a thriller than a love story,” Ms. Foster said. “It was a challenge to deal with wind and rain and we had to shoot when patches of sunlight came out.”
Xinyi Wu’s film is “Quarter,” written by Aashka Pandya, and is about two sisters trying to mend the rift between them.
“Personally I like a challenge and to improve my skill,” said Ms. Wu, who loves the films of Wong Kar Wai. “I learned a lot from my mentor, my writer and my crew. Film is really a collaborative art. Everybody is working in a different area, but are all doing their best for the film.”
Filmmakers like Santiago Bailey-Mussachio brought their familiar style — he’s been making his own personal film for years — but mentors helped them expand that outwards to a larger crew. Used to working by himself, this time he had a crew of five.
“This is the biggest film I’ve ever made,” he said. His film, “Object Permanence,” is about a seven-year-old child whose parents have to decide whether to bring his pet dog back to life with technology.
Screenwriter mentor Jeff King worked on “Rest Stop” with Mr. Merritt. He came away from the experience amazed at the depth of his mentees grasp of very complicated and mature issues.
“This is Max’s generation, not mine,” he said. “They’re so much wiser about these things than we are and any worry I had about him proved to be false. I gotta say, I learned more from him than he did from me.”
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival runs Jan. 30 through Feb. 9.