Sawdust moment by moment

Cameraman Rich Costales and producer Kailee McGee film longtime exhibitor Doug Miller in action for thier documentary about the Sawdust Festival "The Dust."
(DON LEACH, Coastline Pilot)

A New York City filmmaker has returned to the Sawdust Festival’s eucalyptus grove where she grew up to create a documentary that captures the kind of moments which make her memory of it so special.

Kailee McGee, daughter of Sawdust exhibitor and illustrator September McGee, returned to her old stomping grounds in May with boyfriend and co-producer, Rich Costales, to begin filming “The Dust,” a feature that follows the Sawdust’s 200 glassblowers, painters and craftspeople on their journeys from the moment they draw their booths out of a hat, until the moment they tear them down.

“The project is meant to show who the characters really are that make up the show, and the family that they are,” McGee said. “That family isn’t just the artists, but the patrons who come often and the children who are involved.”

The 90-minute film intertwines personal interviews with the artists with intimate, behind-the-scenes footage of moments like demonstrating techniques to visitors, taking a break to listen to their favorite local bands and camaraderie between friends at a Mexican potluck fiesta hosted by two longtime exhibitors.

“Some of the smaller moments — like seeing a booth builder’s child get her face painted or an exchange of presents between artists — are the biggest highlights,” McGee said.

They even captured a blooper of “Beak” backing his truck into a wall while during booth building.

Costales, an Orlando, Florida native who met McGee at NYU film school, said it’s been an exciting experience for him to be welcomed into the Sawdust family through this project.

“As an outsider looking in for the first time, I see the little things that Kailee doesn’t notice because she’s focused on the bigger picture,” he said. “So we make a great team.”

Native American jewelry maker and 20-year Sawdust veteran Greg Thorne, who also appears in an interview at his home, agrees that the pair is onto a great concept.

“I remember Kailee as a bouncing baby girl on the Sawdust grounds, and having grown up here, she understands the subtleties, beauty and tragedies of the experience,” he said. “There’s been a clash between the ‘old hippies’ and the festival has distanced itself from what it used to be, so I think it’s important to see a fresh perspective through their youthful eyes.

“It could be the saving grace of this festival, which gives it that old youthful spirit back.”

Sandra Weir, another 20-year exhibitor who pairs watercolor paintings with inspirational messages, and whose husband and two children also exhibit and work at the Sawdust, said she is impressed with the creative idea for the film.

“I love the idea of exploring the process of the artists, from the beginning of creating a piece to the time that they sell it, and showing the way the artists live,” she said. “I don’t see that side of the culture being expressed so I’m excited to see how it turns out.”

McGee said she hopes to educate and broaden the public’s knowledge and passion for the arts through exploring the true essence of the Festival and its history.

“Since the film will be out this year, it’s an excellent opportunity to boost interest for the 45th anniversary in 2011,” she said.

As she and Costales are personally funding the project, she hopes the community will contribute to their cause in anticipation of the great return it will provide.

“The Dust” will screen in November at South Coast Cinemas in Laguna Beach.

For more information about the project, or to make a donation, visit