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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

Directors of “MADU” inspire youth at Santa Barbara Film Festival opening

From Left, Roger Durling, Joel Kachi Benson, and Matthew Ogens gleam together on Feb. 7 on the red carpet for the premire of Madu at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara, Calif. Santa Barbara has hosted the International Film Festival for 39 straight years, begining in 1986.

With only half an hour until the Santa Barbara Film Festival kicked off for its 39th anniversary, the rain came pouring down on the Arlington Theatre, the klieg lights illuminating the raindrops falling through the dark sky. Nonetheless, the world premiere for Disney’s “MADU” stayed on schedule. 

Despite the rainy beginning, Director Joel Kachi Benson shared words of wisdom as his film premiered. 

“Rain brings blessings,” Benson said. “That’s what we believe in Nigeria. It nourishes the earth.”

“MADU,” directed by both Benson and Matt Ogens, is a feature documentary following the story of young Anthony Madu – a Nigerian boy who went viral after showing off his ballet skills in the streets of Lagos, Nigeria.

“Be inspired,” Benson said. “Be inspired to chase your dream. Doesn’t matter if you’re a 13-year-old person or 30. Just be inspired. If this kid can look at himself and dare to tread the unknown path regardless of what people say, regardless of bullying, threats, and teasing, we can all do the same.”

Ogens added that they relate to this message as well, explaining that the themes being transmitted through the film are “universal.” 

“One of the things that connected me to Kachi when I first met him is him telling me the story of him wanting to be a documentary filmmaker,” Ogens said. “That is not necessarily something you do in Nigeria. Being an artist anywhere. It connects.”

Both directors also offered their own words of wisdom for young filmmakers in the Santa Barbara community. 

“There is no one pathway to making art,” Ogens said. “Go out and do it. Practice and fail because that’s how you get better. It doesn’t matter if it gets into a film festival. Just make stuff that you can with any tools you have.”

Executive Director and City College film studies professor Roger Durling has been the head of the festival for 23 years, and is in charge of the movie showings year-round in the Riviera Theatre.  

“It’s not my first rodeo,” Durling said. “There was a time where it was overwhelming, but now, we’ve done it so many that we know what we’re doing.”

Durling grew up in Panama and shared how he did not have much access to movies growing up. This motivated the free children’s movie showings during the film festival week, which Durling pushed to make year-round at the Riviera. 

“To me, once a year was not enough, so [at] the Riviera Theatre, now we do animated films for free,” Durling said. 

In addition to more free events, the festival brings in kids from elementary schools in Northern California to watch films and have a Q&A with the filmmakers. 

Durling and Claire Waterhouse, the educational programs manager, prioritize Title 1 schools from Northern California and describe exposing them to the movies as rewarding.  

“No matter what economic background, the festival is there to give access, and that’s priority number one to me,” Durling said. “There’s big celebrities that cost a lot to attend, but that’s our bread and butter, that I am able to use money that I make from that to make the free programs and the educational programs.”

The Santa Barbara Film Festival will continue with its events until its closing night film, “Chosen Family,” at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17. Tickets are still available on the festival’s website.

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