2016 SBIFF Movie Spotlight: Wheels Over Paradise

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - With heart-pumping action and a rush of Adrenaline that will keep you glued to your seats, Wheels Over Paradise makes it world premiere at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Friday.

The 56-minute film sheds light on a controversial extreme sport  that has been banned by County Supervisors known as downhill skateboarding, and follows a group of downhill skateboarders as they navigate the treacherous roads of Gibraltar and Paradise Road in Santa Barbara County. But danger and injury are not the only challenges these extreme skateboarders face.

Paul Mathieu, director of the documentary and local Santa Barbara filmmaker, sat down to answer a few questions about the film and give us a better understanding of the hard work that went into creating the film, and what audiences can expect from this magnificent documentary.

What inspired you to want to create a movie about downhill skateboarding? Would you ever "downhill skateboard yourself?" And how did you get connected with that skating community?

I had read an article this past summer in the Independent about the proposed ban of downhill skateboarding on several County roads. I was impressed with the athleticism and talent of the local riders, so I did some research and sought out Tom Flinchbaugh, an experienced downhill skater and photographer. I saw a story in the camaraderie and "outlaw" nature of the sport, and Tom was game to join as co-producer of the film.

I'm not a skater, but I've participated in sports such as mountain biking, downhill skiing, and kite surfing, so I generally felt at home with SB's local downhill community.

The opening of the film really got my palms sweaty, I mean, not only are you starting with great action but you're putting the viewer right in the thick of things. Can you talk about the process of making this film and how much work you put into creating those action sequences?

I really relied on Tom's experience filming the riders. He has honed the craft of filming a relatively dangerous sport in a dramatic and safe manner. I brought a few ideas to the table, but Tom's footage speaks for itself.

Essentially, Tom follows the riders in a car with special camera mounts. It's the only way to keep up with the riders and have the ability to brake really, really fast if someone goes down.

What equipment did you end up using for the making of the film?

Equipment was a mixed bag; the usual DSLR type cameras, along with amazing aerial shots by Mike Warner and Nick Phillips. Towards the end of photography, a new stabilized camera system was released and that was used in both the opening and closing sequences. It would have been nice to have it in the arsenal sooner, but the best way to make an indie film is with the tools you already have and you know that are reliable.

What was the worst accident related to downhill skateboarding that you personally saw and remember while shooting the film?

We were fortunate to not have any serious injuries in the making of the film. Again, the riders' safety always came first. The film does document two serious accidents as part of the storyline. Filming the Santa Gnarbara race, I did witness a lot of bad road rash however.

What did you leave on the cutting room floor that you wish you could have put into the final cut of the movie?

There was always more riding footage to include, but I'm a big proponent of less is more. We set out to make an hour-long film, and we came in at 57 minutes with credits so I'm satisfied with that. There are millions of ways to assembly a documentary. Ultimately, you just have to settle on a version that you, the filmmaker, enjoys.

There's a lot in the film that audiences can walk away with, but if there is one thing you really want people to take away from watching this movie, what would that be?

That is my favorite question. There is a subtle, or maybe not so subtle, commentary on the government's role in our lives. This isn't a story about good v. evil. It is a story about independence, sport, and friendship. I hope the film stirs in the audience a sense of freedom and longing for whatever they love in their own lives. I hope the audience can relate to this passionate group of guys and girls.

Being a local filmmaker and having interacted with other filmmakers from around the globe, did you get any other feedback or ideas from them that you want to implement in your next project?

Unrelated to this film, I'm also a part of the crew that does the SBIFF Tributes live at the Arlington. So that has kept me very busy the first weekend. I look forward to seeing some films this coming week and meet more filmmakers that have traveled for SBIFF.

This past year, I've also been producing two other feature documentaries (currently in production). One is about the California drought situation, and the other is about the origins of the multi-level marketing industry in the U.S.

What does it mean to you to have this film premiere at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival?

We are very excited to screen at SBIFF. Obviously, the film is primarily set here in Santa Barbara, but to premiere here is special because the Festival has grown so much and they have been very accommodating to local filmmakers. Saturday the 13th, 7PM at the Lobero Theater will be really busy, and really fun.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Mostly, I would like to thank Tom, and the rest of the crew and riders that volunteered so much time and talent to pull this film off in time. If filmmaking wasn't difficult enough, indie films are that much tougher to produce. Time, money, and resources have to be delicately balanced. With that said, we had great support from Powell-Peralta, Arbor, and Sector 9 skateboards. Louis Pilloni from Skate House Media was instrumental in providing all the archival material to tell the backstory and we really appreciate that.

Wheels Over Paradise world premieres at the Fiesta 5 Theater on Friday, February 12 at 10:20 p.m. and will screen again on Saturday, February 13 at 7 p.m. at the Lobero Theater.

For more information, list of films, and tickets, visit http://sbiff.org.

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