They’re filming a documentary in Taft, and the star is … Taft

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TAFT, Calif. (KGET) — It’s human nature to sometimes take for granted the people and places we experience every day.  Sometimes it takes outsiders to see remarkable things in our familiar daily lives.

Such is the case these days in the quiet Kern County oil town of Taft, where two out-of-town documentary filmmakers just keep finding magic in the mundane.

Their story started with a random drive-through. Filmmaker Daniel Jacobs, a Cleveland native living in Los Angeles, was touring oil museums around Southern California for a possible project about the culture of the American oilfield. 

Then he discovered with Taft — population 9,000 and change — and something else occurred to him. Something better. He called his filmmaking buddy, Tobias Finklestein, a native of Long Island, New York, who had also come to L.A. to make documentaries.

They developed a Plan B. The star of their documentary would be Taft itself. Its history, its lovable quirks, its future, as seen through the eyes of its own people.

But to do it, they had to convince some of the locals they weren’t here to make fun of the town or set them up for some kind of politically motivated hit piece.

“I am very happy to have an opportunity to not talk about anything that’s politically charged,” Finklestein said. “I spent a lot of time getting to know people and I am in love with the town. The people here have phenomenal stories. There’s a meaningful atmosphere here. It’s an atmosphere that is totally saturated with history, with overcoming challenges, with perseverance and Americana.”

And more than a year later, they’re still at it. 

Co-director Daniel Jacobs loved one story in particular.

“One of the ones that I really liked was the world record for most pizzas baked in 24 hours,” he said. “The town sort of got together to do that during Oildorado several years ago. And just the number of ovens and people and logistics and community that were needed to do that is super impressive.”

The film features another little gem: The dobro, a so-called resonator guitar developed just after the turn of the previous century, was created by two men from Taft.

On Tuesday the filmmakers at the Taft headquarters of Oildorado Days, the town’s beloved, century-old festival that celebrates the town’s gritty, Old West, boomtown origins. Oildorado was canceled last year because of the pandemic. It took a war to cancel it the previous time.

But now it’s back — scheduled for this October.

The filmmakers interviewed Shannon Miller, president of the Oildorado Days festival. She admits there may have been some trepidation among the townfolk about two big city filmmakers turning their cameras on their humble little town.

But they won them over.

“I told them in the beginning that you are going to have a difficult time,” she said. ” …There’s always that kind of hesitation, like, What are they gonna say, are they gonna paint us in a good light or a bad light. I said be prepared for that when you start to introduce yourself in our community. Now that he’s been here and he’s become a little more immersed in the culture in the community, people have been a lot more receptive and some of the things he’s been able to uncover I didn’t even know.”

So, a year’s worth of material will have to be condensed into 90 minutes or so. They’ll manage, with the help of film editor Leah Turner and a filmmaker’s shoehorn.

The filmmakers would love nothing more than to have their documentary debut at the Taft Fox Theater. What might the title say up there on the marquee?   They’re not saying or maybe they haven’t decided yet. But one possibility: “How a Small Oil Town Came to Trust  Two Out-of-Town Filmmakers.”

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