2016 SBIFF Movie Spotlight: The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - One of the greatest national treasure hunts exists here in the Central Coast. The man that became synonymous with Hollywood, Cecil B. DeMille, shot the 1923 version of The Ten Commandments in the Guadalupe Dunes and created what has become one of the largest sets in motion picture history.

DeMille's set was buried under sand for decades until the subject of potentially unearthing an entire forgotten city caught the attention of Peter Brosnan. Would Brosnan and his team of archeologists find the lost city of Cecil B. DeMille? Or will his expedition become just a wild goose chase?

The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille embarks in journey as epic as DeMille's "Ten Commandments," featuring historical archives and interviews from those in Guadalupe that participated in the original "Ten Commandments" movie. This film is a must-see for anyone living on the Central Coast and beyond.

Director Peter Brosnan gave us a more in-depth look at what it took to make this documentary film memorable.

First of all, great film involving such a jewel and history of our Central Coast. Could you talk about the process of making this film, from how you were going to shoot it to how you were going to edit it and put it together.

Technically, it went from a 1980s 16mm production (very expensive and clunky) to a 21st Century digital (fast and cheap -- Thank You, Steve Jobs!) production. The technological change we've seen in the course of this production has been mind-boggling.

Story-wise, it was initially (c. 1984) going to focus on our archaeologist as he "uncovered DeMille." As time went by (and archaeologists came and went), I became more and more involved in the story. That was not what I'd originally intended. But, I hope, in the end that makes for a more compelling story.

How did you change as a person from when you first started with this project some 30+ years ago to recently completing it?

Well, I have a lot more white hair now. But I think I'm still the same person. I now have a family, too. And it will be wonderful for my wife and two sons to finally see this film, which has largely resided in boxes in my garage for as long as they can remember, have its premiere.

As the film shows, there were numerous challenges from different outlets, particularly from the political push of certain entities. But what do you feel was the most challenging aspect about making this documentary?

That the people we thought would be helping us continually beat us up.

Looking back, what would you differently in not only the making of the film but also in approaching the "Lost City" project?

Looking back, the passage of time, and the many obstacles this project has encountered and overcome, all make for a much more compelling story. And, quite honestly, despite all the problems, this project has almost always been exciting and fun. So I would not change a thing.

The film does a great job telling the story of Cecil B. DeMille and capturing his cinematic career in ways many few documentaries have. What was the most interesting thing about Mr. Demille and/or his lost city that you found in making this film?

Without Cecil B DeMille there would be no Hollywood. Period. He is that fundamental a figure in the history of American Cinema.

How about the most interesting thing about the town of Guadalupe that you discovered?

What is most fascinating it that this wonderful Swiss/Italian-Filipino-Chinese-Mexican-Japanese (did I forget anyone?) town remains largely undiscovered by the California tourist industry. Its restaurants, architecture, cemetery and, of course, the Guadalupe Dunes should make this gem a tourist haven. Perhaps the "Lost City" and the Dunes Center can help change that.

If there is one thing you really, truly would like audiences to take away after watching this film, what would that be?

How quickly we are losing our American Cinema heritage. It has been estimated that 95% of the silent films made in the US have been lost. As for artifacts from that period, there is almost nothing. What lies buried in the Guadalupe Dunes represents a chance to save some genuine artifacts from, and bring renewed appreciation to, the early days in Hollywood. DeMille and those other early Hollywood filmmakers exported a positive image of America and American Culture to the entire world. We need to do a better job of saving their work.

What does it mean to you to have this film screen at this year's Santa Barbara International Film Festival?

Over the decades, this project has received wonderful support from so many people and organizations in Santa Barbara County. This story takes place in Santa Barbara County. To have it open at the SBIFF is perfect.

Is there anything else you would like to say?
Not really. We say it all in the film.

The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille makes its world premiere at the Fiesta 5 Theater on Thursday, February 11 at 7:20 p.m., and will hold a second screening on Saturday, February 13 at 10:20 a.m., also at Fiesta 5.

For more information, tickets, and a list of movies at this year's film festival, visit http://sbiff.org.

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