The film "COAST" is described as a "coming of age" story, although co-director Jessica Hester calls it more of a "mother-daughter coming of age" movie, which was filmed almost entirely in the Santa Maria Valley.
The feature-length movie makes its debut from April 8 to April 10 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and is based on a screenplay written by Santa Maria native Cindy Kitagawa, who worked closely with Hester and Derek Schweickart, who also co-directs, during its production.
"COAST" tells the tale of Abby Evans, an angsty 16-year-old Mexican-American girl played by actress Fatima Ptacek, who lives in a broken family and has an opportunity to escape her tight-knit farming community but struggles with leaving her friends and family behind.
"There's the story of the teenage girl who wants to get the hell out of [her] town and the story of the adult who finds this place so beautiful," Hester said. "A big part of life is the relationship with your mother. To look at yourself, you can't help but examine the relationship with your parents."
While not autobiographical, Kitagawa started writing it about 10 years ago as a series of vignettes inspired by people she grew up with.
“It reflects my own feelings growing up here and the things we did, where we hung out and the trouble we got into,” Kitagawa said. "I think we didn’t have a lot of idea about the outside world. I knew that I always wanted out but didn’t know what that meant.”
The screenplay was sparked by a conversation she had with longtime friend Wendy Guerrero, a producer of the film who is also from Santa Maria, and further developed after the encouragement of actor Bruce Dern, according to Kitagawa, adding that he was also an early mentor in the film.
"Bruce said you got to read this story that Cindy is working on about these amazing girls who take over the town," Hester said. "He just felt like they were on to something."
Originally the screenplay was written to take place in the 1980s, but the production couldn't secure a budget to re-create that time period, so they gave it a "timeless" feel through fashion and music, according to Hester.
Although Schweickart grew up near Los Angeles, neither he nor Hester, who is from New York, knew anything about the Santa Maria Valley and approached the filming as outsiders. They credit Jim Wesner, owner of Rancho Guadalupe Farms, and other locals for helping their team of crack filmmakers in an attempt to coalesce the area's unique qualities into a 96-minute flick.
“There was a feeling that a lot of people in Santa Maria were from here and had deep roots,” Schweickart said. “There are all of these kind of sub-communities that are all close together.”
The production technically began in 2014, but the bulk of the filming occurred over an 18-day period in 2018, according to Kitagawa, who said they filmed 13 pages of her screenplay each day, which she called "unheard of."
Scenes include those filmed in the Oceano Dunes, Preisker Park in Santa Maria and Paradise Trading Post and Record Store. The film also stars Orcutt native Kaylee Kamiya and some extras, including the Guadalupe Police Department.
The film opens up to a nighttime clandestine teen gathering somewhere near Guadalupe: the group watches as a girl gets her nose pieced, then are interrupted and chased by police in a scene filmed at LeRoy Park, with another female youth flipping them off and then urinating in a field, where she is accosted by a shotgun-wielding property owner.
"[The directors] stayed very true to the script and that was very important to them," Kitagawa said.
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