The history of offshore diving in Santa Barbara is a long and convoluted one, full of tangents and trivia. One tangent ties together Brooks Institute, underwater photography, nature documentaries, and the Santa Barbara Channel, and ties it together at the Arlington this Saturday night. The sporadic Underwater Film Festival, a loose affiliation of enthusiasts who program events every couple of years, hosts a tribute for Ernie Brooks, photographer and diver, and uses this evening as a chance to screen new and rarely seen footage, invite friends and colleagues on stage, and raise money for the Maritime Museum and the Historical Diving Society.
The brainchild of SBCC diving instructor Ed Stetson and assisted by faculty member Don Barthelmess, the evening is designed to give back to Mr. Brooks what he has given to generations of students, both in photography and in marine education. Ernie Brooks was raised in Santa Barbara — his father started Brooks Institute. The younger Mr. Brooks was president of the institution for many years as well, and has made a career passing on the excitement of both his loves.
“Santa Barbara has always been a hub for diving, and Ernie has been the center of that hub for decades,” says Mr. Barthelmess. In a sub-genre of photography dominated by color, Mr. Brooks shoots primarily black and white, rendering the undersea world mysterious and ghostly. (His images can be found here: erniebrooksea.com).
Fifteen presenters are scheduled to appear at the Arlington. Some are coming from as far away as Australia to honor the man. Rodney Fox, a diver and authority on great white sharks, is such a presenter. He was the subject of the film “Blue Water White Death” for surviving a shark attack. The filmmaker of that film, Stan Waterman, will also be presenting.
Zale Perry, the “first lady of diving,” star of “Sea Hunt” with Lloyd Bridges, and the first woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1953, will also speak. David Doubilet of National Geographic will be there, as will Louis Prezelin of Jacques Cousteau’s crew, IMAX photographers and “Blue Planet” filmmakers Howard and Michele Hall, shark photographer Valerie Taylor, commercial diving pioneer Dick Anderson, and many of Brooks’ alumni from the photography school, like Chuck Davis, Ralph Clevenger, Richard Salas, and Tim Angulo. The evening just added Laurent Ballesta, the French diver and deep-sea photographer, who will close out the show.
The event is a lot less talking than the line-up suggests, says Mr. Barthelmess. It’s been programmed and designed for the public, hence the venue. The evening will be filled with video and photography, all specially chosen by each presenter. The event includes a tribute to local documentarian Mike DeGruy, who died last year in a helicopter accident. And Ernie Brooks will speak as well, screening shots from his most recent book, “Silver Seas.”
“It’s like the Oscars for underwater photography,” says Mr. Barthelmess. “It’s always one of the rare chances that these professionals get to be in the same room together.”
And none of this would happen without Ernie Brooks.
“He’s the essence of life itself,” says Mr. Barthelmess of his friend and colleague. “To listen to him talk about his images, and how he shot them and what they mean to him, it just transfixes you.”
Santa Barbara Underwater Film Festival
When: 7 p.m. Saturday (VIP reception 7 p.m. tonight)
Where: Arlington Theater, 1317 State St. (VIP reception at Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way)
Cost: $25-$38 (VIP $150)
Information: 963-4408, www.hds.org