Entwined Wins Bill Paxton Award
When Dale Griffiths Stamos wrote and directed her latest short fiction film, Entwined, she had no idea that events less than a year later would bring extra focus to the 14-minute work. Entwined, which is about a Black man and a white woman in their sixties discussing the prejudicial injustices that drove them apart in their youth, evokes the police killing of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests that have dominated attention this year. Now, in the wake of last summer’s events, Entwined will receive the Bill Paxton Award at the Ojai Film Festival this week when it screens as part of the festival’s Gold Coast Series on November 9.
It’s the first short film ever to win the fest’s top prize, but it’s not Stamos’s first time collecting an award in Ojai. She previously twice earned honors in the screenplay competition. Stamos, who is also an award-winning playwright with a long list of produced plays as well as a poet, essayist, and writing teacher, has produced and written the screenplays for six short films, three of which she also directed. Many have been selected at multiple film festivals including Palm Springs ShortFest, Newport Beach, Dances with Films, Sedona, San Luis Obispo and Breckenridge. She’s received two Audience Awards and two Jury Awards, and three Awards of Excellence from Best Shorts Competition.
“I’m always and forever a writer – I’ve been a writer since the day I was born,” said Stamos, whose more recent foray into filmmaking began “inadvertently” when directors of two of her plays suggested she turn the theatrical works into movies, including one that starred Barbara Bain, of the original Mission Impossible TV series.
Stamos and her husband have had a Montecito connection going back two decades – their first part-time house on East Valley Road burned down 12 years ago in the Tea Fire – while their time in Santa Barbara goes back even further to when both were students at UCSB, where she majored in French. The couple became full-time residents in Montecito five years ago, which is when Stamos began teaching at Santa Barbara City College’s Adult Ed (now School of Extended Learning). Not to mention that the late Montecito resident Douglas Adams, of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Fame, is among her literary heroes.
We caught up with Stamos – who is also a longtime teacher of “Story Structure for All Genres” at the annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference, which she said was “instrumental” early on in her own development as a writer – to talk about Entwined over the phone earlier this week.
Q. What motivated you to write an interracial love story last year?
A. I’ve always been interested in racial issues. Then a friend told me a story about having re-encountered a man who she had loved deeply in high school, but they’d been ripped apart by these bullies. She hadn’t seen him in all these years and they ran into each other at an art gallery, which was another story I was working on, and that’s when the idea came together. The movie really took off though when Michael Dorn, who played Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation, agreed to do the role. It was odd, because Michael had a very similar experience when he was younger. He’d actually had a girlfriend in high school but they were torn apart, not by racist bullies but by their own parents who had not approved of an interracial relationship. So he not only liked the script, he also resonated with it.
I imagine it also received extra attention because of the recent focus on racial injustice.
Yes, I’m getting so much more notice for it. In the Breckenridge festival they listed it in the Black Lives Matter section. Sometimes it’s a little difficult when you are a white writer writing about black issues. I mean it helps that there are two main characters and one of them is a white woman. But it’s really that I was inspired by someone I knew, and that helped me be able to get to the heart of it more deeply.
But I’ve always had an interest in racial issues.
Why do you think that is?
It’s an interesting question. I was brought up in Orange County, “behind the Orange curtain,” as some of us called it. It took going to UCSB to shake off that influence. But I was brought up by a liberal family in a conservative community, which makes for an interesting mix right there. And my high school actually was multi-racial. So it wasn’t like I was a white girl in an old white system, but I do remember very young encountering this little African-American girl who was in the hospital at the same time that I was when I was getting my appendix out. I was only nine years old. And at the time this was probably the first Black person I’d ever met. I remember just gravitating towards her and wondering about her – that strangeness that happens when you haven’t been exposed properly.
I also remember a time when I was in a library in Santa Ana when I was in high school and this young black man came up and said that he’d love to chat. So we sat with each other and talked. There was no ulterior purpose. We were just talking about the library and why we both liked books. And then he got up and left. I didn’t think anything of it at the time other than being a bit proud of myself for doing it.
But later, my best friend for 30 years now who is an African-American man and is 11 years older than I am, told me that it was a very risky thing for the Black man to have done. He often gives me that perspective where we as white people really don’t understand, we really don’t get it. It’s good to have someone that you care about say to you, wake up and smell the prejudice because we’re so oblivious to it. His perspective has had a deep influence on me as well. I think that’s why I feel this connection. I feel the same way about other races, too. I made sure to write a play in which I cast a Latino young man as a PhD in philosophy, because generally every Latino is cast as a gangster or a gang member or a drug dealer. That angered me to no end.
So it seems like this runs through my sensibilities in general. I try to step into different shoes than my own. And I think any good writer should do that. Yes, cultural appropriation is an issue, these days perhaps more than ever. But I think that all of us have the multitude of humanity within us.
Can I ask what you hope audiences take away from seeing the film?
It comes down to love is true. True love is true love. Period. I hope they walk away realizing that when something like this forces people apart, but instead it’s truncated that it’s tragic.
I noticed you have had films screened at several nearby festivals, but not here in Santa Barbara at SBIFF.
I have sent every single one of my films to the festival, and as a local I very much would love to be represented here. But I realize it’s a very, very, very competitive festival and it’s hard to get in. There are so many festivals now, but the thing is, you’re going to get far more rejections than acceptances. That’s the nature of the game.
Turning back to Ojai, what does it mean to you to get an award like this from your relatively local festival?
Every award counts, not as validation, although in a way that’s the right word, but more because it says that it meant something to people. Getting this from Ojai is very meaningful because it’s the first time a short film has won that award, which is incredibly significant for me. So I guess it hit home. The film said something that moved people and touched people, which is ultimately why I write. I want to connect with people and have them resonate with the story.
The Ojai Film Festival goes virtual November 6-15, when it will screen 77 films selected from 302 entries from 42 countries. The lineup includes animations, short and feature-length documentaries and narratives, plus environmental Focus Earth films. Visit ojaifilmfestival.com.