To the Maxxx Sidebar

SBIFF 2012's Films About Waves, the People Who Ride Them, and More

Courtesy Photo

To the Maxxx goes to the beach in a big way this year and, well, it certainly is a surfer’s paradise.

Of the sidebar’s nine feature films, more than half of them are firmly rooted in the Sport of Kings and the colossal culture that has grown up around the art of surfboard riding. The entrance portals vary from pure, unadulterated surf porn to heady one-on-ones with the men who helped put surfing on Southern California’s map some six decades ago to captivating anthropological looks at what surfing has meant to a tiny South Pacific village half a world away. But the result is often the same: movies that entertain and educate whether you play in the ocean once a day or once a year.

As the sidebar’s longtime programmer Russ Spencer put it recently, “This is really a very solid year.”

For my money, as a card-carrying surf nerd, one of the best of the bunch is Markus David’s documentary Boardroom. From the halcyon days of pre-World War II surfing in California to the post-war boom right up through the shortboard revolution, David’s film is an impressive bit of historically important first-person storytelling by the people who, by the sheer force of their personalities and passion for riding waves, helped evolve this once-upon-a-time renegade way of life into an undeniable national cultural touchstone. The biggest of the proverbial big kahunas talk shop here like Santa Barbara’s own Renny Yater, Greg Noll, Dick Brewer, Grubby Clark, Bing Copeland, and Hap Jacobs to name a few.

In a somewhat similar history keeping effort, Doug Walker’s Lost and Found is a truly original bit of journalistic film making. After coming across a mother lode of 30,000 black and white negatives at the Rose Bowl Flea Market — and recognizing many of them from the pages of Surfing Magazine during the 1970’s — Walker goes on three-year mission to track down the men in the pictures and the photographers who took them. Along the way, Walker starts putting together an oral narrative, much of it based in Hawaii, of the era that gave birth to professional surfing.

Splinters is another docu-surf flick showing this year. Winner of the documentary category of 2011’s Annual Surfers Poll Awards (sponsored by Surfer Magazine), Splinters is a slickly produced and repeatedly entertaining (seriously, some of this movie plays out like world class reality TV) look at what has happened in Papau New Guinea’s coastal village of Vanim since surfing showed up on the scene in the 1980s. Arguably the most appealing to broad audiences film in the sidebar, Splinters shows a socio-economic reality in Vanim where surfing, a la basketball for inner city kids in America, is seen as a way to a better life.

The other two surf films, markedly different in presentation but similar in substance and theme, are enviro-minded efforts. The first, and in my opinion, better of the two is El Mar Mi Alma, a meditative and visually beautiful ode to the coast of Chile. Much has been made in mainstream surf circles in recent years about the wonders of Chile and this movie, quite simply, is probably the best defense to date for this obsession. Dave Homcy, who has a true gift for capturing the sublime through a viewfinder and the resume to prove it, handles cinematography duty in this film from Stephen Jones while Chilean folk singer Manuel Garcia provides a dreamy original score. Oh yeah, and the surfing, from the likes of Joel Parkinson, Dave Rastovich, and Chile’s own Ramon Navarro to name a few, is world class.

Lastly, Minds in the Water, from Justin Krumb, is a feature-length look at the journey the aforementioned Australian pro surfer Dave Rastovich has been on over the past 5 years. Evolving beyond the traditional path of contests and corporate responsibilities that define most “professional” surfers, Rasta, as he is known, has become an eco-warrior of sorts. This film highlights the origins and accomplishments of the wildlife advocacy group Rasta helped co-found, Surfers for Cetaceans. The story takes you around the world to places like the Galapagos, Japan, and Chile as Rasta and friends make the shift from conscious observers to the evils suffered by whales and dolphins to actual activists working, from the platform of the surf industry, to inspire awareness amongst the masses.

Back on the safety of land, the keystone film of the To the Maxxx sidebar is Stacy Peralta’s Bones Brigade: An Autobiography. The man who brought us Dogtown and Z-Boyz is back with this historical look at one of the most defining and enduringly important movements in the sport of skateboarding. The ideal person to tell the tale as he quite literally helped invent the Bones Brigade back in early ’80s, Peralta revisits, through interviews and archival footage, this radical time when some of the biggest and most legendary names in skateboarding like Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, and Rodney Mullen came together as teenagers to form the Bones Brigade team and forever change the way we ride — and think about riding — pavement and vert ramps. It’s all in this film, from the epic clashes between Hawk and Christian Hosoi, Iron Cross skate decks, Caballero’s dragon logo to Mullen’s still cutting edge tech tricks.

Wyoming Triumph is the category’s lone snow-based film and it does not disappoint. A throwback of sorts to the days when ski/snowboard films were made without monster budgets, this movie follows a crew of friends in Wyoming as they, over the course of two winters, use their red-neck skills to ride powder-rich places regularly ignored by the usual purveyors of snow porn. More skiing than snowboarding, Triumph is, especially in this current snow-starved winter, certain to get you pining for for the mountains and road trips to the Wild West.

Santa Barbara director and motocross chronicling kingpin Jason Schweizer takes us behind the scenes of the Metal Mulisha, the most raw, wild, and envelope-pushing crew in the rugged world of riding dirt bikes and doing ridiculously dangerous things, in his movie Black Friday. From tragedy to triumph, this film is really a biopic of sorts about the Mulisha crew and the characters, like Brian Deegan and Jimmy Fitzpatrick that make them who they are.

Finally, featuring the occasional splash of footage from Santa Barbara, comes Stunt Sport, the world’s first comprehensive look at the athletic intersection of parkour, break dancing, and tricking subcultures. These are the twisting, turning, leaping, launching, and spinning people behind the acrobatic stunts (think the Matrix) that have become so popular in action flicks coming out Hollywood these days. The movies follows the trials and tribulations of three young men, including parkour heavyweight King David (trust me, just look this dude up on YouTube), as they work to make a living in this emerging and body beating line of work.


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