Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Barbara


Santa Barbara Point from Shoreline Park

Here I sit in LAX waiting for my red-eye back to Boston. After nearly three weeks in Santa Barbara, CA, I’m hesitant to get on that aircraft. Back home, I’ve missed about seven feet of snow (actually, “I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob.“) while relaxing in wall-to-wall days of 70’s and sunshine. They don’t call it the American Riviera for nothing. I’m trading in endless bike paths, ocean surf, and outdoor living for snowbanks, icicles, and a couple more months of cabin fever.

DSCN6184While in SB, I had the opportunity to get a taste of the SB International Film Festival. Film fests are a great experience. I’ve only been to four settings: SB, Austin, Martha’s Vineyard, and Boston. (No Toronto or Sundance yet. Those are the Big Ones. Cannes and Venice are above my pay grade.) The first two are legitimate festivals. Austin is the “writer’s festival” and thus holds a special place in my heart. By comparison, the other two are low key. I can understand MV hosting a smaller event. It tends to serve the local community rather than drawing large crowds from distant locations. You’d think, however, that a world-class city like Boston could pull off something more impressive. You’d be wrong.

Fortunately, Austin and SB make up for it. The two cities have a lot in common besides hosting credible film festivals. They’re both funky, artsy, and warm – things I appreciate in a city. All Austin needs is an ocean built next to it and real estate values increased about 1000% and they’d be identical.

Santa Barbara is the perfect setting for a film festival. First of all, it was Hollywood before Hollywood was Hollywood. Second, it’s home (or home-away-from-home) to many film notables, e.g. Oprah, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Costner, Jennifer Aniston, and a People-magazine-load of others.

luckypennyIn fact, I was having lunch at Lucky Penny last week, when who should sit down at the next table but Christopher Lloyd! I looked at him. He looked at me. Then he says, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who writes that ‘Scribbling in the Sand’ blog?” Wait. That was a dream. (Although someone I know really did see Mr. Lloyd at Lucky Penny. He obviously has great taste in pizza.)

The truth is I’ve never seen a single celeb here, but that’s just fine with me. And even more fine with them, I assume. What I did see are movies, some never before shown in America. Given my lack of time, transportation, and funds, I limited myself to only four of the dozens that filled the 12 day schedule: two Italian films and two Scandinavian. Interesting combination since those two ethnicities make up a significant percentage of my family’s background.

A great thing about film festivals is that you can see movies that might never be seen elsewhere. Many films are showcased at festivals to find distribution. Many – even some good ones – never see the light of day… or DVD or streaming. It was a privilege to see them. Even the duds.

Here’s a brief recap of the movies I saw:

Banana (Italy) was a comic but bittersweet story of a young Italian boy who obsesses about being a great Brazilian (?) soccer star, while wooing the older girl of his dreams. While trying to change his own life, the boy has a positive impact on those around him who have given up hope. I rated it a 3 out of a possible 5 on the film fest scale. It was worth seeing just for a couple of very funny gags.

Mafia and Red Tomatoes (La Nostra Terra, Italy) recounted the true story of an unlikely motley group of volunteers trying to start a farming cooperative on land seized from the Mafia. They face opposition from within and without. With equal parts social commentary, drama, comedy, and romance, the film was a delight. 4 out of 5.

Beatles (Finland), a movie based on a popular novel of the same name, was an engaging coming-of-age story about four Norwegian boys in the 1960’s whose dream is to be like their heroes, the Fab Four. As you might expect, the music was terrific – some straight Beatles songs and some quality covers. It nailed that era and its attitudes with such laser-like accuracy, I had flashbacks. The most astounding aspect to this film was that the four kids who played the leads and were absolutely great, had never acted before. Rated 4. (Note that, for obscure legal reasons, if this ever shows on American screens, it will be called “Yesterday”.)

Eila, Rampe and Baby Girl (Eila, Rampe Ja Likka, Finland) was, I suppose, the Scandinavian idea of a screwball comedy. Unfortunately, it played more like an extended sitcom. There were a few laughs but those were far outnumbered by the many embarrassing moments that had me squirming in my seat. It might have helped to be Finnish, I suppose. Rated 2.

My flight is getting ready to load, so I have to sign off and resign myself to an icy, snowy future, warmed only by memories of Santa Barbara. Oh, yeah, and the love of friends and family who await me. It ain’t all bad.


Creative communities

communityI’m all about community. I crave being part of a community, I flourish in the context of community, and I love building communities. It doesn’t matter what the little society is built around – church, MS, philanthropy, sports, the arts, or pure recreation. Where two or more are gathered, there I want to be in the midst of them. That’s why I speak and write so often (like here and here and a lot of places in between) about the value of support groups for those with MS.

So today I felt like writing about communities. This blog being centered on writing and film, it’s creative/artistic communities that are on my mind.

If I can break it down a bit, I see two flavors of such communities. The first would include temporary gatherings for specific purposes: individual plays, films, concerts, and recordings, for example. My experience participating in such efforts has invariably proven to be fun, exhilarating, and inspiring… for a while. There’s a sort of “postpartum” depression that often sets in when they end, as they always must.

No matter how brief, I wouldn’t want to miss those opportunities for the world. Whether singing in a choir or acting with a troupe, there’s nothing like being part of a collective creative consciousness all aimed in the same artistic direction. To get a glimpse into that world, read the book I wrote about in this post.

As you might have guessed, the second type of creative community is a long term one. They last for years, lifetimes, or generations. Members of these collectives pour their creative energies and encouragement into one another thus enhancing their work and their lives. Some are formal, others more a matter of proximity.

laurelcanyonThe folkies of 50’s Greenwich village were a hotbed of creative (and cultural and political) growth. In the 60’s, the Motown area gave rise to R&B and Haight-Ashbury nurtured the roots of modern rock’n’roll. Those communities were responsible for seismic shifts in culture. Though not considered MIPartistic, Silicon Valley was for a time as creative a community as the world has seen. Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon, portrayed so effectively in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”, was an intentional community that hosted some of the century’s most celebrated artists and writers.

After all, what is a band, an orchestra, or an architectural firm but a community of creatives? These gatherings are so much more creative and productive than the individuals involved could ever be. I feel confident in asserting that the community known as The Beatles was far greater than the sum of its parts.

Those kinds of groups always seem to eventually fall victim to bloated egos, tempestuous personalities, and conflicting agendas. That’s part of the baggage of the stereotypical artistic personality. Which is probably why artists of all stripes tend toward isolation.

inklingsMy personal icon of a literary community is the Inklings of Oxford, UK. The most prominent members of this discussion group were J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis – not sure if using one’s initials was a prerequisite to membership. What I would give to hang around at the Eagle and Child Pub with these guys discussing their latest work and ideas. I’d be lost, of course, but humiliation is a price I’d gladly pay.

Inklings meeting room, Eagle and Child Pub, OxfordSeveral years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Oxford, dining at the Bird and Baby, as its customers often called it, and also hearing a lecture on Tolkien in the adjoining building. I was staying in a house on the same street in Headington where Tolkien once lived, driven to the talk by a gentleman who had been a friend of the Tolkien family, accompanied by the caretaker of the Kilns, Lewis’s home. I’ve never had a more fulfilling, if thoroughly vicarious, literary experience.

I’m not sure why this was on my mind. I can’t say I’ve ever been involved in one of those long-term artistic communities, although the prospect is appealing. The funny thing is that writers are notorious loners and introverts, which would fight against any impulse to be part of a larger group. For many, the value must win out over the personal reticence.

Gotta go. I’m running late for a meeting of one of my collection of communities.

Relaxing in Lewis's study. Where's Jack?

Relaxing in Lewis’s study.
Where’s Jack?