Movie and surf enthusiasts alike gathered at the Fremont Theatre for San Luis Obispo International Film Festival’s eighth annual Surf Nite on Thursday.
“This was one of the best ones. Sometimes you just hit on the right movie, the right special guest and the right crowd,” festival director Wendy Eidson said. “Even the rain didn’t keep people away, which is nice.”
Director Leslie Iwerks‘ “The Ride” started the evening off. The documentary follows a group of surfers at “Jaws” or Pe’ahi beach on Maui. While there were no shark encounters, the movie featured 20-foot waves, tow surfing and jet ski rescues.
Released in 2004, “The Ride” won best film at X-Dance in 2005. The documentary focuses on surfing as a team sport rather than a competition to catch the biggest and best wave.
While the sheer size of the waves and the ability of the surfers shown in the film impressed audiences, the way it was all captured for the screen was also a point of fascination among viewers.
The surfers were given little direction by the director in order to catch realistic and raw footage.
“The surfers do what they do,” Iwerks said. “You are just lucky if you get it on tape.”
And it’s not only the surfers who get out on the water.
“The cinematographers that are filming are amazing athletes in themselves,” Iwerks said. “They have to juggle surfing and filming.”
Filmed in 2011, “Storm Surfers” singles out two surfers from “The Ride” — Ross Clarke-Jones and Tom Carroll. The film was directed by Christopher Nelius and Justin McMillan. Only screened in North America twice before, the film won the Best Feature Length Documentary at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts awards. It is also the first modern 3D film screened at the film festival.
“The planning starts in the beginning of summer,” Eidson said. “I saw ‘Storm Surfers’ in the Toronto Film Festival in the very beginning of September and I just knew it was going to be our kind of surf film.”
The documentary follows a trip to Turtle Dove Shoal, a surf break 75 kilometers off the coast of Western Australia in the Indian Ocean. Clarke-Jones and Carroll were the first to surf the spot.
Surfer and now-film star Clarke-Jones traveled from New Zealand to San Luis Obispo for the screening and a Q&A segment that followed the two documentaries.
Filming “Storm Surfers” involved many cameras. Some attached to surfboards, some at the end of extension arms held by surfers and some stable on the boat. Audiences view the waves from various angles. Eight GoPro cameras were lost during the filming.
“There is lots of good footage on the bottom of the ocean somewhere,” Clarke-Jones said with a laugh.
Although the GoPro cameras on the extension arms gathered a lot of close-up footage, Clarke-Jones had to adjust where and how he surfed when holding the camera.
“(The cameraman) hands it to you and it’s the wave of the day. You are never satisfied, but at least I got to share it with you guys,” Clarke-Jones said.
Although Clarke-Jones did not get a chance to test the surf in San Luis Obispo, he did have time to meet some of the locals and sample some of the food and shopping downtown.
“You have got the most beautiful people I have ever met,” Clarke-Jones said. “Happiest Americans I have ever seen.”
When asked about his next project, Clarke-Jones’ answer was vague, but promising.
“It’s more of a stunt thing that has never been done before,” Clarke-Jones said. “If we pull it off, we’ll show you. If not, you’ll be coming to my funeral.”
The first annual Surf Nite took place in 2006 with the screening of “Riding Giants.” Special guests included surfers Jeff Clark and Greg Noll as well as producer Stacy Peralta.
“It is our biggest event. We realize that this is an area where a lot of people are into outdoors and extreme sports,” Eidson said. “Since the first Surf Nite, we have been adding more and more sports films to the festival.”
A new venue, the Avila Beach Community Center, was added this year to screen sports films and short films. Screenings were spread out during the festival weekend.