Something funny happened on the road to radical this year: SBIFF’s To the Maxxx sidebar got stuck at the beach. More specifically, it got stuck in that big blue aspirin for what ails you: the ocean. Of the nine films in this year’s incarnation of the film fest’s annual pigpen of outdoor oohs and aahhs, six are salt water-soaked affairs and a seventh — though certainly a skateboarding film — takes place on a small island in the Pacific Northwest.
But don’t let the cruisey detour fool you: the assemblage of movies is as action-packed and compelling as ever with a definite nod to people who, for good or bad, do things their own way. In fact, to hear the sidebar’s longtime programmer Russ Spencer tell it, “This year’s lineup is, in many ways, our best yet.”
The crown jewel of the group is the super slick surf flic, Deeper Shade of Blue. The newest offering from surf movie-making icon Jack McCoy, Deeper is having its world premiere at the Arlington on Tuesday night following a couple years of industry anticipation. After grabbing a sneak peek at it, I can honestly say it doesn’t disappoint. A glistening high definition affair that features some of the most stunning/innovative “from the water” perspectives the surf universe has seen in quite sometime — the magic happens thanks to an underwater jet ski contraption that allows McCoy to chronicle a surfer’s ride from a beneath-the-sea perspective — the film is as rich with history lessons as it is with high brow surf porn. Like a Discovery Channel nature documentary-meets-surf movie, the film has the unique effect of being interesting to surfers and non-surfers alike. In fact, the latter might even get more kicks from it than the former.
Also in the “surf” category, UCSB graduate and Santa Barbara resident Joshua Pomer provides a big dose of grit and gigantic waves with his documentary, The Westsiders. Taking an unflinching look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of three of Santa Cruz’s most successful pro surfers, Pomer sheds some light on the dark, drugged up, and often violent underbelly of one of the world’s most quintessential surf towns.
At the opposite end of the spectrum comes the guaranteed to make you smile Stoked and Broke, a self-proclaimed “stay-cation surfari epic” from Cyrus Sutton. Tongue-in-cheek humor walks hand-in-hand with a much needed back-to-the-basics message in this movie as Sutton and sidekick Ryan Burch chronicle a low budget, eight-day, 30-mile surf trip around San Diego made possible by sleeping in the bushes, carrying their gear on homemade rickshaw-like wagons, and generally hobo-ing it up as much as possible. To top it all off, the soundtrack is, as is often the case when Sutton makes a movie, world-class.
Other surf (or at least surf-affiliated) movies include the T.S. Elliot poems-meets-quantum physics-meets-some seriously heady surf philosophy — not to mention some sparse art house-style cinematography — offerings of The Still Point; the poetic ode to ocean and all things Australian The Way of the Ocean (which is actually the first installment in a five-part series from filmmaker Matt Kleiner that seeks to document the five oceans of the world, the waves that roll in them, and the people that ride them); and Destination 3 Degrees, the inspiring and occasionally harrowing documentary film about two women who stand-up paddle their way across the perilous open-ocean channels that weave around the Hawaiian Islands chain.
On the land-loving front, To the Maxxx features the world premiere of Downhill: The Bill Johnson Story. Both depressing and oddly motivating, the brash, bad, and bold machinations of America’s first Olympic downhill skiing gold medalist play out in this biography. The phrase “crash and burn” comes quickly to mind.
Santa Barbara’s Eric Hatch, one of the true guardians of skateboarding’s underground soul, delivers yet another SBIFF offering for the concrete riders amongst us. Destination Orcas takes the viewer in the van and on the road from Santa Barbara to the small Washington state island in an epic sponsor-less skate adventure with friends (many of whom call S.B. home) done for no reason other than the sheer fun of it all.
Lastly, Santa Barbara motorcross movie maker extraordinaire Jason Schweitzer drops his latest On the Pipe installment. Two years in the making, the action (much of it captured via helicopter) and high tempo music is nonstop as the world’s best motorcross riders do things that your mother should never know exist.