Talking with A filmmaker who took a calculated risk

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Name: David Santamaria
Age: 45
City: Oakland
Position: Filmmaker, editor, founder of Early Man Productions


J.: You were the 2013-14 resident filmmaker with the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and you just started the second year of a joint residency with the Ninth Street Independent Film Center and SFJFF. What’s your current project?

David Santamaria: I’m working on “Harriet,” a film about my Aunt Harriet, who was one of New York City’s first female cab drivers. She is an attractive Jewish woman who also was a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas. I still don’t think she’s told me her whole story yet.

You grew up in a heavily Jewish neighborhood on Long Island. What was it like having the last name Santamaria?

DS: (laughs) Well, no one thinks you’re Jewish. You get calls from Spanish telemarketers, speaking very quickly. I always tell them, “Actually, I’m Jewish.” Growing up, even my friends had no idea that I was Jewish. My mom, Rochelle Goldstein, who still lives in Long Beach, N.Y., was kind of undercover when she became Rochelle Santamaria.

David Santamaria

J.: What was your Jewish upbringing like?

DS: It was completely secular. My mom was not religious and she married an Italian Catholic. Except for growing up in a Jewish area of town and going to seders, I grew up with just the cultural parts of Judaism. My mom is a Brooklyn [raised] Jewish woman who grew up with the tradition and food, but she pretty much didn’t connect with Judaism the way her siblings did. That ended up being passed down to me.

You’ve been in the Bay Area since the early ’90s. How did you end up out West?

DS: A big part of what I did post-college was traveling back and forth across the country for two weeks or a month at a time. I’d travel with my friends and we’d go through “Main Street America” instead of taking interstates. We would camp in the summer and play pool in weird towns. One of the films I wrote the script for is called “The Pizza Men” and is kind of based on those trips.

J.: One of your degrees is in film studies from the University of Florida, but it wasn’t until the last decade that you got into film. How did that happen?

DS: After college, I was working in mental health as a counselor for HIV patients, traveling and not very invested in my career. I was feeling frustrated with the mental health system, and the technical and creative side of film really appealed to me. My girlfriend at the time was like, “You’re over 30. What are you doing with your life?” So I took a calculus class and a film class at San Francisco City College, just to see what direction I wanted to go. After one semester of calculus I said, “No way,” but I loved the film class and that got me started.

J.: You founded a media collaborative in 2006, Early Man Productions, that helps filmmakers through the postproduction process. How does that work?

DS: Once the film is shot, Early Man helps filmmakers to complete the film process by providing editing, graphics and color correction training. We have four to 10 people [collaborating] at a time, and we help each other with technical aspects and creativity.

J.: You’ve written, directed or produced several short films. One of them, “Slide Rail Superman,” is about the world’s greatest “slide railer” and a sherpa who shleps his stuff. What is a slide railer?

DS: “Slide Rail Superman” is a mockumentary that I produced with my friend and collaborator Donald Harrison. It’s an absurdist comedy about a guy who slides down handrails everywhere. We came up with the idea when I was wearing a homemade Superman costume. The costume was purposely made too short and looked like a 14-year-old boy who never grew up. Donald was like, “We should make a film about you sliding down handrails.” And we did it.

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