To the average Gaucho, the name “Flying A Studios” might mean little more than a room in the UCen. But to one professor, that label brings to mind a studio at the forefront of a fledgling movie industry, prominent in both the film business and the Santa Barbara community.
Film studies Professor Dana Driskel premiered his historical documentary “An American Film Company” in Campbell Hall on Monday night. As the film’s basis, the Santa Barbara-based Flying A Studios – also known as the American Film Manufacturing Company – is portrayed as a giant in the world of silent film.
The documentary was screened alongside two short films from the studio’s heyday. The films were accompanied by pianist Michael Mortilla.
Playing to a packed house of students, faculty, community members and visitors from this week’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the reception for the films was overwhelmingly positive.
“It was a tremendous evening and a tribute to several decades of hard work,” Film Studies Dept. Chair Janet Walker said.
Film studies major Sydney Duncan also felt that the event was a memorable experience.
“It’s exciting to see something so polished come from our university,” Duncan said.
Duncan was also enthusiastic about the screening of the two Flying A films, “Matching Dreams,” a romance, and “With A Life at Stake,” a Western.
“It’s exciting to see shorts on a big screen with a full house, with the fresh, juicy responses of an audience,” Duncan said.
“An American Film Company” offers an intimate look into the story of what was once Santa Barbara’s most prominent business. Driskel said that in its day, Flying A was a force in popular culture.
“American was well thought of for its cinematography and good photo quality,” he said.
While other companies sought to build a market in Hollywood, Flying A used Santa Barbara as the setting for its films. In the early part of the century, Flying A was seen as a major draw to the Santa Barbara area, a bond that solidified the ties between the company and the city.
“The story of America represents so much of day-to-day filmmaking,” Driskel said. “To understand [the decade of] the teens by way of ‘Birth of a Nation'” is to understand the ’70’s by way of ‘Star Wars.'”
In recreating the story of Flying A, Driskel ties together rare film footage, interviews and photos that help create an image of the company as a genuine example of the era.
“An American Film Company” is the culmination of a project Driskel began as a UCSB student and continued through graduate school at the University of Southern California.
“I didn’t start out all that intrigued with Flying A, but I gradually grew to love them,” he said.
The idea was then shelved for two decades as Driskel pursued his teaching career, until he learned of the death of the friend who initially inspired him to research Flying A.
Although Flying A dissolved over 50 years ago, Driskel saw the importance in acknowledging its once great influence and commemorating its vibrant history.
“There’s no great ‘message’ in the documentary,” Driskel said, “just an attempt to set a few things straight and let people know about some people who’ve been forgotten and who shouldn’t be.”