Montecito Debris Flow Documentary Wins Award

By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

A prominent organization of public access and community media centers has honored “Montecito/January 9, 2018” with an award for excellence in documentary video.

Produced by investigative journalist Melinda Burns, Newsmakers TV co-founder Hap Freund and TVSB staff members, the powerful video marked the one-year anniversary of the Montecito debris flow.

It includes interviews with four eyewitness survivors of the tragedy, along with documentary and archival material about the human dimension of the event and its scientific causes.

The 22-minute work received the Western Access Video Excellence (WAVE) award in the documentary category at last week’s regional conference of the Alliance for Community Media in Monterey.

“We thought it was important to expand the historical record of this tragedy through video, drawing on the vivid accounts of survivors,” Burns said when the documentary was released last year

“Their stories take on special urgency as the community girds for extreme weather events that are sure to come again,” she added.

Melinda and Hap accept documentary award at TVSB’s 2019 awards from executive director Erik Davis

It takes a village

Burns’ investigative and enterprise print journalism, provided free to local news outlets, set the bar for reporting on the calamity and its aftermath.

She wrote the script for the documentary, interviewed survivors Lalo Barajas, Marco Farrell, Mark Karpeles and Curtis Skene and also co-directed, with Freund. Principal videography is by Erica Schweitzer, who also edited the piece, with Kyle Fenole. The doc also benefitted greatly from photos and video by Mike Eliason of the SB County Fire Department and by Drue Holthe of the Montecito Fire Protection District.

The Alliance for Community Media is a national membership organization that “advocates, promotes and preserves the right to media training, production, distribution, civic engagement and education in support of diverse community voices, through Public, Educational and Government Access channels and other forms of media.”

Work from Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico is eligible for the organization’s western states regional awards.


Written by Jerry Roberts

“Newsmakers” is a multimedia journalism platform that focuses on politics, media and public affairs in Santa Barbara. Learn more at

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