New documentary explores the longest untouched coastline of Southern California

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A documentary debuting at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival explores a natural refuge not far away – the Gaviota Coast.

In Gaviota: The End of Southern California, filmmakers Shaw Leonard and Tamlorn Chase spent five years telling the story of the last, pristine, twenty mile stretch of Southern California.

KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian sat down with Chase to talk about the story behind the film.

KCRW: Why did you want to zero in on this area?

Chase: The Gaviota Coast is the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in Southern California. It’s also a major biodiversity hot spot, because it’s a meeting point between two bio-geographic regions. On land, the more northern species meet the southern species at this coastline. On sea, we have two currents – cold water coming down from Alaska, and warmer water coming up from Mexico – and they combine in the Santa Barbara Channel. So, you have these meetings both in the ocean as well as on land.

What were some of the hardest parts of getting all this amazing footage?

Wildlife filmmaking is already hard in normal years, but finding the animals to film was particularly difficult during this historic drought. A lot of them fled north into the Santa Ynez Mountains where it’s more shaded. Populations were just lower than normal. There were less pools to set up by where you expect animals to come drink from. There’s less vegetation, so everything that eats plants is disappearing.

You start to think about the bigger picture. Is this what the coast is going to look like with climate change? Is North America’s only Mediterranean climate shifting into a coastal desert? Those were questions going through our head while we were filming.

One big event that happened during this filming was the Refugio Oil Spill, which dumped over 140,000 gallons of crude oil along the Gaviota Coast in 2015. What made you decide not to include that event in the film?

When the oil spill happened, we were in the middle of production. Shaw and I raced out there about an hour after it happened and filmed, and I ended up getting involved in the protests and cleanup. But, when it came to the movie, we wanted to show the best of the coast. We talk about industrial development, and how it’s a threat to everything out there, but we made an effort to not show things like that. We didn’t want to tarnish the beauty.

The film premieres at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this week. For more details, click here.