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SBIFF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and education organization dedicated to making a positive impact utilizing the power of film. SBIFF is a year-round organization that is best known for its main film festival that takes place each year in February. Over the past 30 years the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has become one of the leading film festivals in the United States – attracting 90,000 attendees and offering 11days of 200+ films, tributes and symposiums. We bring the best of independent and international cinema to Santa Barbara, and we continue to expand our year-round operation to include a wide range of educational programming, fulfilling our mission to engage, enrich and inspire our community through film.

In June 2016, SBIFF entered a new era with the acquisition of the historic and beloved Riviera Theatre. The theatre is SBIFF’s new home and is the catalyst for our program expansion. This marks the first time that Santa Barbara has had a 24/7 community center focused on the art of film and is an incredible opportunity to expand our mission of educational outreach. Particularly important to SBIFF is making available high quality learning opportunities for underserved and vulnerable populations. Our programs and reach are more robust than ever before.


Interview - Jessica Kavana Dornbusch for REEFA - Santa Barbara Fest


Directed by Jessica Kavana Dornbusch

Interview by Emmanuel Itier



Q: Tell me about the choice of directing this tragic movie and what did you want to create, impact, wise?


Jessica: At the forefront for me was to explore the immigration issues in America. This is a tragic true story and I even understood more the sacrifice occurring when I met the family of Israel “Reefa” Hernandez. It’s the irony of this story that you have a family coming here to save its children’s lives and end up with the death of their son. This story really chocked me as I’m a first American generation and my family is originally from Uruguay. So, I understand the notion of sacrifices that comes with immigrating in the USA. And I also have two kids which makes this subject, police brutality, very sensitive to me. And as you can see this is a timely picture with what is happening every week in America.


Q: What types of challenges did you face making ‘REEFA’?


Jessica: It took so much to get to this place, now that the movie is about to be released. I start meeting and interviewing the family of “Reefa” one year after his passing and it took me almost a year to put the script together. It was an emotional journey and it wasn’t easy to get all the elements of the story from his family. And then for over 5 years I watched the financing come together and then fall apart! It was pretty torturous. Especially for the family who couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find the financing support to bring forth this important story. Then we finally got enough funding with a crowd campaign we put together. The worse came during the filming. The same police department that killed “Reefa” found out we were making a movie about him and they shut us down! Even so we had permits! They told us to get out of Miami Beach! Eventually we resumed filming, but this was quite a struggle and quite an emotional journey. And, of course, we got shut down by the pandemic last year as the film was finished and we were supposed to have a big premiere in Miami on March 12th! But, here we are, finally coming out in theatres and on VOD this month, all over the country.


Q: Why the choice of telling this story with a live action movie versus a Documentary version?


Jessica: Well, I’m not a documentary filmmaker so this was a natural way for me to tell this story as a live action feature. Interestingly there was a documentary being filmed as the same time by someone else but more focused on the case and the corruption of the Miami Beach police. But for me, I really wanted to celebrate his art and his life and the beauty with which he approached the world. And I thought I could interpret that better with a live action feature.


Q: Are there real-life protagonists in this movie who came on board to be part of the cast? Any of his friends and family members?


Jessica: Yes, everything is pretty true to form. His friends and his family were part of the whole process of making this film. All of the artwork in the film was recreated from his real artwork. “Vivian” is actually played by Pamela Longsword who is a friend of the real Vivian. The real Vivian is in the art scene and she was our art consultant on the film. For the skateboarding scenes we had all of his friends in the movie. Also, the guys who are creating the big graffiti wall in the movie are real Miami artists who knew “Reefa”. We really brought the Miami community and the “Reefa” community together to celebrate this young man and his art.


Q: Beyond the themes of immigration and police brutality, are there some other themes that are important to you in this film?


Jessica: Love is another important theme in our film. “Reefa” had just fallen in love for the first time in his life before his death. I wanted to explore the notion of first love. And I also wanted to show what a real Latina family looks like.  The message is about the beauty of Art and how it’s horrible we lost this amazing creative soul. More than ever the World could use more artist like him. I hope “Reefa”’s story will resonate with people and I hope it will create conversations. I have hope, as a filmmaker and as a mother, for the future of our children.





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The Santa Barbara International Film Festival has star wattage and a wealth of premieres in a Mediterrean-style city by the sea.

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