Last Man In Paradise (Michael Love, Tina Love, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Jim Burns. Viewed at the Santa Barbara Film Festival 2011.

Last Man in Paradise is a documentary by Michael and Tina Love about Santa Babara native Tom Merkel’s struggle with the federal government to preserve history. Merkel lived in a popular cabin in the Santa Ynez Valley, just off Paradise Road, for over 18 years. The cabin was originally used as a weekend retreat for the founding fathers of Buellton in the early 1900’s. Over the years, Merkel kept the cabin as close to its original construction as time would allow. He even posted a museum sign and gave tours of the property, sometimes charging as much as 25 cents. When his lease expired, along with 27 other cabins, Merkel was the only one who refused to leave quietly. He claimed the cabin held historical value and did everything in his power to delay the demolition of his beloved cabin.

The Loves were able to capture Tom’s true passion for preserving history. This is not a film about a man trying to save his residence or fighting the federal government for the sake of publicity, but a film about a free spirit who believes in preserving history and giving back to his community.

Tom Merkel is the son of a very successful local artist who left him over a million dollars, so money never seemed to be a driving factor for him. He is a throw back to the bohemian period Santa Barbara was once known for. During his struggle with the federal government, Merkel purchased over 80 acres in central California so he would have a place for his other passion, older vehicles with historical value. He has over 1200 vehicles on this land and some of the vehicles hold extreme historical value.

As filmmakers, the Loves were able to capture Tom Merkel’s infectious personality, showing footage of Tom’s struggle with the federal government throughout the years, even using some of Tom’s own personal footage from over 20 years ago. While time may have changed Tom’s appearance, he remains today the same lovable spirit who just wants to preserve local history.

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