Screen Dreams: Local filmmakers debut work at the SBIFF

While stargazers love the “international” part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, some film lovers maintain focus on the Santa Barbara part. For many local directors, the Fest is their first experience in the thrill of the film circuit, and the first time to see their masterpiece on the big screen. For friends and family, it’s a chance to come and support the director after watching her or him go through long nights, even years, trying to complete a film.

And there are lots of Santa Barbara filmmakers and film subjects this year. The festival offers a program of five short documentaries and eleven short fiction films, as well as seven feature films. On top of that, several films have Santa Barbara connections.

For example, pro surfer and longtime Santa Barbara resident, Shaun Tomson, features in “A Life Outside,” Catherine Brabec’s documentary on the surfing culture that grew up around Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, N.J. These guys used to drop into waves, while above them, people were dropping down on rollercoaster cars.

“I think that Catherine really captured the spirit of the place,” he says. The production crew came to Mr. Tomson and filmed his segments here — he used to hang with a lot of the New Jersey guys and provides commentary in the film.

Mr. Tomson, who came to Santa Barbara in 1977 to surf Rincon and then in 1995 to live here, was last in the festival in 2008 with “Bustin’ Down the Door,” a surf feature about himself, Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew and Mark Richards, and how they revolutionized surfing. (Mr. Tomson also executive produced.)

A director with ties to Santa Barbara and its art scene is Susanna Vapnek. If her last name looks familiar, it’s because she’s the daughter of Dianne Vapnek, who used to head Summer Dance. Susanna’s film is “Mabon ‘Teenie’ Hodges: A Portrait of Memphis Soul,” a chance to bring out of history’s dustbin the story of the man who wrote many of Al Green’s hits, including “Take Me to the River.” She just moved back to Santa Barbara last year, after many years in New York. The movie took her four years to make, and started when she met Teenie Hodges when she was tour manager for Cat Power’s “The Greatest Tour.”

“I got a camera and started filming him,” is how she says it started. (Teenie Hodges is planning to attend the screening.) Ms. Vapnek will promote the film, but with a new daughter, she’s also going to return to her painting and enjoy Santa Barbara.

T.S. Meeks grew up in Solvang. His parents started the Bulldog Cafe, although they’ve since sold it. He moved to L.A. eight years ago, but returns once a month to see family, and now he’s returning to screen his first, self-funded short, the dramatic, wedding-night film, “To Us,” a tale of a couple breaking down after a simple question unravels their security.

“I’m hoping each person who sees the film has their own opinion on the events,” he says. This year marks his first-ever film festival. “I’m excited,” Mr. Meeks says. “It should be a great week.”

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