SBIFF Movie Spotlight

2017 SBIFF Movie Spotlight: "The Boatmaker"

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Have you ever dreamed about something in your life, perhaps the job of your dreams or the perfect lifestyle, that may seem like an impossibility? Ken Minor did, that is, until he actually followed through with his dream, and made an impossibility, reality.

"The Boatmaker" follows Ken's journey as he builds his dream boat to help him sail around the world, sometimes through tough obstacles that threaten that dream from coming true. The journey is beautifully documented by filmmaker Casey McGarry. Even KEYT NewsChannel 3 Senior Reporter John Palminteri makes a cameo.


In the late eighties, architect Ken Minor bought the plans to build a 30ft wooden Bristol Channel Cutter sailboat. His dream was to sail around the world. In 1991, he began construction on the boat in his backyard. He even built a barn by himself to house the operation. There isn’t one square inch of the boat that Ken hasn’t constructed by hand, helped design, or installed himself. Everything is custom. There are parts and materials on the boat from around the world.

After 25 years, Ken has finally completed the project and is ready to put the boat in the water. “The Boatmaker” is a story about a man and his boat, and what it takes to fulfill a life dream.

Q&A with Filmmaker Casey McGarry

What motivated you to wake up every morning and tell this story?

Ken and everything he represents inspires me. He is a spiritual, very modest man. He’s also an unbelievable craftsman. And I don’t say that lightly: this boat he’s built is one of the most beautiful wooden boats ever built. Ever. Without needing to say this, it’s story that needed to be told.

Please talk about the process that you went through making this documentary.

My friend Robert Allan kept telling me about this guy, an architect named Ken Minor, who was living in Sycamore Canyon building this wooden sailboat for the last 25 years… He kept bringing it up that someone needed to make a film about him because it was a great story and was important. Flash forward 2 months: Robert had gotten word that Ken was getting ready to finally move the boat out of the canyon and down to the water. A couple of days later, we met Ken for breakfast. Afterwards we got in our cars, drove up to see the boat, and I began shooting the film that day and have been making it ever since. That was 11 ½ months ago.

What were the challenges you and your crew faced making this film?

The most challenging thing was trying to cover everything as well as we could in terms of filming the crucial events like extricating the boat from the boat shed and canyon. That was a week of shooting itself. Launching the boat and sailing the boat were other crucial and time sensitive things to plan. It was really a matter of just being ready at all times to go shoot the events that were about to take place so the film felt real and present- so the viewer feels in the moment like they were there.

What are the most memorable moments from making this documentary?

There are many but here are two. The first would be one time when I met Ken and Loretta down at the boat right after they had launched the thing and they were getting ready to put on the sails. 78-year old Ken, without saying much to me, started hoisting himself up the 45’ mast he built by himself out of one piece of wood. Maniac.  The second moment was being the only one in the car sitting in the passenger seat beside Ken when we were following the boat on its way down to the Santa Barbara Harbor after they pulled the boat out.

Is there anything different that you would do in making this documentary?

On the technical side, we used all Canon DSLR cameras for the most part and those lend themselves to the ability to be less overbearing because of their compact nature. But if I were to shoot this film again, I would probably use a bigger more traditional video camera and better sound devices to capture the cinema verite stuff.

I would also say that there are always things you look back at and wish you had done it a little differently especially when it comes to past films I’ve made. But for the most part, I am pretty happy with how we covered the story. More so lately, I feel a deep, deep gratitude for all the little miracles that have seemingly happened time and time again over the time we’ve been involved in the making of this film. It feels almost out of my hands. We’re on our way - We’re moving after a lot of hard work trying to bring this story to life. I’m excited for the audience to grow and for more folks to be able to see and feel inspired by Ken’s story.

Do you have a dream you’re working towards to completing? And have you ever thought about building something that may seem larger than life such as what Ken Minor did in this film?

It’s definitely a dream of mine to complete a film like this. It’s such a good story and had such a great premise going in. Good stories don’t just appear out of thin air. I feel very fortunate I was given the opportunity and gift to tell this one, and that it landed on my shoulders. I felt an obligation. 

How are you feeling having your film premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival?

THE BOATMAKER is a very universal story but it’s also a Santa Barbara story made by a mostly all Santa Barbara crew. It only feels right that The Boatmaker premieres here at this festival, this year, and in this town.

What do you hope audiences leave the theater with after watching this film?

I want anyone in the world to be able to watch this film and walk away with just a little more hope that they will also be able to accomplish their dreams. Whether it’s fulfilling lifelong dream or the simple task of like painting a bedroom, it doesn’t matter. An inspired life is better than an uninspired life. We should always evolve as a people in every way (that should go without saying), but part of that evolution is holding onto things and traditions that work and give us joy. Things like accomplishing dreams, building boats, sailing the world, etc. Dreams give us reason. Go out and go for a sail. It may just help restore your faith again, or at least make your soul murmur that it’s still alive a little bit.


  1. Tuesday, February 07, at 8:40 p.m. - Metro 4 Theater (part of the Santa Barbara Documentary Shorts)
  2. Friday, February 10, at 5:40 p.m. - Metro 4 Theater (part of the Santa Barbara Documentary Shorts)

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