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Local Students Enjoy Reel Fun During ‘Field Trip to the Movies’

James Cameron steals the show as the group explores nature through film

What do you get when you pack the Arlington Theatre with Santa Barbara area students, hand out 3D glasses, show a cool movie with educational value and bring along the producer who produced it — times two? You get the experience students had Monday in back-to-back sessions during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s “Field Trip to the Movies.”

A team effort of local nature filmmaker Mike deGruy, Roger Durling and the film festival crew (specifically Mike Takeuchi, who takes on the huge task of interfacing with all the schools), “Field Trip to the Movies” provides a learning opportunity through film for elementary students, many from under privileged schools.

Essentially it’s a chance to see a leading nature film on the big screen and then learn from on-stage conversations from various industry professionals, such as writers, producers, directors of photography and musicians. This time, the students scored big with the big guy in town — James Cameron.

Exploring extreme ocean environments with a team of young scientists (who also ponder about life on other planets) provided the main plot for the movie, and seeing it in the 3D format created the atmosphere of almost being right there in their high-tech submersibles. Hydrothermal vents spewed out chemical-laden molten rock directly from the Earth’s crust and provided habitat for bizarre jellyfish and deep water shrimps, blind crabs, 6-foot-long worms and strange fish with weird feet — all of which appeared so close and realistic that the creatures appeared to float off the screen.

Learning the difference between photosynthesis and chemosynthesis and asking the question, “Does the bacteria work for the worm or does the worm work for the bacteria?” were just a few of the many educational tidbits. However, throughout the film, one can’t help but feel the producer’s curiosity and passion to explore not only life in these harsh environments on Earth, but to someday explore distant alien ecosystems on a far away planet or moon.

Local scientist Dijanna Figueroa, left, director James Cameron and filmmaker Mike deGruy talk with the students after Monday's screening
Local scientist Dijanna Figueroa, left, director James Cameron and filmmaker Mike deGruy talk with the students after Monday’s screening. (Lori Rafferty / Noozhawk photo)

The students sat spellbound for nearly an hour during the film but erupted into a deafening roar of approval when deGruy appeared back on stage and asked them if they liked surprises, to which Cameron walked out to interact with deGruy on the various perspectives of filming nature in its extreme.

After treating the students to a particular scene from Avatar, it became obvious that both science and film offer fun and creative opportunities in their respective fields. Adding to this message was the guest appearance of local scientist Dijanna Figueroa, who played the role of one of the young explorers in Aliens of the Deep in 2005. Earning her Ph.D. in marine biology from UCSB, where she now works, Dijanna shared with the students her enthusiasm and passion for science and discovery, reminding them of their responsibility to respect nature.

All in all, Monday was a great day of “field trips” for teachers, staff, parents and the children. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of future marine biologists were born that day. As Cameron said, “A scientist is a kid who just wants to know the answer to a question.”

— Photojournalist Lori Rafferty shows her appreciation for Santa Barbara by pursuing her love of water sports, the backcountry and all things in between. She is also a volunteer wilderness ranger with Los Padres National Forest.

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