Now playing in Los Angeles and New York*, The American Riviera® takes another star turn as a supporting cast member in “20th Century Women,” the latest movie from acclaimed filmmaker and creative powerhouse, Mike Mills. Set and shot in Santa Barbara, where Mills grew up, “20th Century Women” is a follow-up to his Academy Award®-winning film, “Beginners,” which was inspired by Mills’ late father, Paul.
Based on Mills’ relationship with his mother, “20th Century Women” is set in Santa Barbara during the summer of 1979. The film follows Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), a determined single mother in her mid-50s who is raising her adolescent son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), at a moment brimming with cultural change and rebellion.
Many of the film’s scenes were shot on location in Santa Barbara to create an authentic sense of place and capture the look and feel of Mills’ memories. “The film has a very personal basis,” said Mills. “We lived in Montecito initially, and all the streets we shot on, and Miramar Beach, these are all places I’ve been going to since I was 5 years old. The film is set in 1979—the hedge-lined streets of lower Montecito are perfectly in period. Santa Barbara is the idyllic, sort of Maxfield Parrish painting location for a pre-digital, pre-internet world.”
We’ve compiled a list of more than a dozen Santa Barbara sites that have significance to Mills based on his formative years in Santa Barbara, as well as locations used in the film. Whether you’re a fan of “20th Century Women” or Mills’ entire body of artwork, step into his Santa Barbara world on this Mike Mills-inspired itinerary.
Mike Mills on Location in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara’s beaches create the backdrops for several scenes in “20th Century Women,” including a heart-to-heart between Dorothea and her young protégés, as well as a scene when Abbie starts working for the local newspaper, the Santa Barbara News-Press. The production laid tracks for filming at East Beach (Cabrillo Boulevard, east of State Street and Stearns Wharf), one of the most popular downtown beaches. Butterfly Beach (in front of Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara) is a personal favorite of Mike, who likes to walk “from [Butterfly Beach] across Hammonds Beach to Miramar if the tide will let you.”
Mills enjoyed filming the streets of Montecito, particularly on San Leandro near Crane school. He added, “We shot in San Ysidro creek and in a beautiful oak tree grove.” The distinctive pink wall outside of Ganna Walska Lotusland (695 Ashley Road, Montecito) along Ashley Road is visible in one of the pivotal scenes between Dorothea and Jamie.
The city’s countless gardens and parks hold many memories for Mills. “I used to play ball with my dad’s dog in the Rose Garden in front of the Mission,” he shared. The A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden (Plaza Rubio between Laguna Street and Emerson Avenue) is located across from the landmark Old Mission Santa Barbara (2201 Laguna St.). Franceschi Park (1501 Franceschi Road), one of Santa Barbara’s hidden pocket parks in the Riviera neighborhood, has a spectacular, panoramic view of the city. Mills said, “The view from [Franceschi Park] is great—we had many family birthdays there, and my mom’s funeral.” He added, “The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a magical spot.”
Mills’ late father Paul Mills—depicted by Christopher Plummer in an Oscar-winning performance in “Beginners”—was the longest serving director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1130 State St.). According to Mills, “My father was director of the Santa Barbara Art Museum for 15 years, so I grew up there and at all the parties my parents had for the museum. I was constantly meeting artists and hearing about art and my parents were both sort of frustrated architects themselves.”
Mills’ father’s influence is still evident in the Santa Barbara creative community. He was instrumental in the flag project at The Breakwater on the Santa Barbara Harbor (132-A Harbor Way), which is lined by flags representing community organizations. Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer’s rainbow-colored steel sculpture, Chromatic Gate (Cabrillo Park at Calle Puerto Vallarta and E. Cabrillo Boulevard), is one of Santa Barbara’s iconic public art pieces. Situated across from East Beach and Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort, the sculpture was installed in 1991 due to the efforts of Mills’ parents.
Mills was heavily influenced by punk music and skate culture as the character Jamie explores. While Santa Barbara no longer has a punk club like Baudelaire’s (featured in “20th Century Women”), The Funk Zone, a 12-square-block neighborhood near the waterfront, is the edgier, creative heart of Santa Barbara today. Old warehouses have given way to a flourishing subculture of wine-tasting rooms, artists’ studios, craft breweries, surfboard shops and buzzed-about eateries.
*”20th Century Women” now playing in Los Angeles and New York, and set to open January 6, 2017 at Metropolitan Paseo Nuevo Cinemas in Santa Barbara. Will be available nationwide by January 20, 2017. Please check theater listings for screening dates in your city.