The plot involves a longtime Santa Monica resident, a fortuitous bike ride just north of city limits and a World War II documentary. But it’s not the story Steven Barber is interested in telling.
Barber, a local filmmaker, finds more intrigue in the lives of others, working to share them with audiences with the hope of offering new information and insight.
“Telling these great stories about these great Americans, I’m very lucky,” he said. “I don’t know how I keep doing this, but I keep doing it.”
Barber is currently drumming up interest in his latest documentary, “Never Surrender,” which details the experiences of Ed Ramsey, a U.S. Army officer during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in the early 1940s.
One thing that struck Barber about Ramsey, who was honored for his guerilla leadership, was that he worked in both Japan and the Philippines after the war.
“Ed was one of those guys who just forgave them,” Barber said.
Barber, whose budget was about $300,000, is seeking to get his new documentary short-listed for Oscar consideration. Narrated by Santa Monica-born actor Josh Brolin, the film is Barber’s sixth feature documentary.
The process of getting short-listed, though, is difficult and often expensive, Barber said. The film must meet specific requirements and be screened in certain markets. The New York run of “Never Surrender” recently wrapped up. The documentary, which was shown last month at Laemmle’s Music Hall movie theater in Beverly Hills, will also be screened Nov. 13 at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
Two of Barber’s previous films, “Unbeaten” and “Until They Are Home,” received short-list honors. He’s hoping for his third such accolade with his latest project.
“I don’t know if we’ve got a shot,” he said. “I did this because I hoped we could. But the film is really solid.”
Barber, a New York native who has been a Santa Monica resident for 25 years, came to Southern California with hopes of becoming a movie star. But his time on screen was short-lived.
He credits a bike ride on Amalfi Drive north of Santa Monica for launching his current career. He said he serendipitously crossed paths with actor Eddie Albert, who had served in the U.S. military, and became motivated to tell interesting stories.
“It had never occurred to me to be a filmmaker,” he said. “I’d probably be working at Paramount in an editing bay if I hadn’t taken that bike ride.”
Barber got the idea for his latest documentary while filming in the Philippines for a separate project. After returning home, he remembered hearing about Ramsey and starting doing research on the late veteran. He soon learned that Ramsey’s widow lived in nearby West L.A., which made it easier for Barber to initiate a conversation and begin raising money.
Barber said the public remains interested in World War II movies, citing the upcoming Mel Gibson-directed “Hacksaw Ridge” and the Tom Hanks-involved “Greyhound” as two of the latest examples.
Barber said it’s hard to carve out space in a genre that has seen increasing participation by major studios, but he still finds his work valuable and satisfying.
“I’ve not accomplished anything like the people I’m telling stories about,” he said. “That’s my gift: I’m able to find people who have led these extraordinary lives and tell stories that otherwise might not be told.”