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02/07/2007: SBHS Students in Santa Barbara Film Festival


Elephant documentary by S.B. students airs at fest

From left, Brad Lonson, Toby Eversole, Spencer Spottiswoode, Freddy Meyer and Freddie Weston-Smith meet in Santa Barbara after their adventure to South Africa to film a documentary.



January 27, 2007 7:58 AM

Most high schoolers are concerned with grades and college applications, not the fate of elephants in South Africa or immigration and drug trafficking in Thailand.

Four young filmmakers in Santa Barbara and one from Pasadena spent a month in Thailand a year ago for a documentary, and five weeks in South Africa last summer for a second documentary about the overpopulation of elephants in South Africa.

The film, "Desperate Measures: The Crisis Facing the South African Elephant," earned the honor of two showings in the nature documentary category of this year's Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

"That was a huge thing for us," said Freddie Weston-Smith, 17, a junior at Laguna Blanca School who directed the film.

Their documentary last year, created by 10 students, made the film festival's college category. But these teenagers have higher goals -- they've even been working with Disney Studios and have contacted the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and other production companies in hopes of getting the film shown on TV.

The boys were intrigued by the topic after learning of the overpopulation of elephants through Mr. Weston-Smith's parents, who lived in South Africa. Their research included asking residents in Santa Barbara whether they knew such a problem existed.

Most didn't, which convinced them it was a topic worth exploring, the students said.

The others involved included Santa Barbara High student Freddy Meyer, 17; Bradley Lonson, 17, a student at Laguna Blanca; Spencer Spottiswoode, 17, a student at San Roque and Toby Eversole, a college student in Oregon.

With help from a field guide and filmmakers in South Africa, they explored alternatives to elephant population control in South Africa, including elephant culling, vasectomies for male elephants, birth control for females and translocation. They interviewed various conservationists in South Africa and the United States.

"It was eye-opening for us," Mr. Weston-Smith said. "The people there have devoted their lives to wildlife. Every person we saw or talked to was extremely passionate about this."

The teenagers slept in tents and did most of their filming in the early morning hours when the animals were most active. Much of the editing for the film was done on location; they didn't have much time before school started when they returned, and one of their team members was leaving for college.

Most of the students plan to pursue filmmaking in college, and hope to make careers of it someday. For now at least, they're relishing the chance to show their work at the film festival.

"Desperate Measures" will be shown at 7 p.m. today at the Center Stage Theater, and at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Santa Barbara Junior High School's Marjorie Luke Theater. For information or tickets, visit


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