Film Festival Brings Surfing and Conservation to the Mission

Image shows four stills from the film Ode to California.

Four stills from the experimental, beat-inspired film "Ode to California." Images courtesy Patrick Trefz.

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The Mission District may be several miles from the ocean, but this evening the Save the Waves Film Festival will bring the two together with a handful of short films on subjects loosely themed around surfing, the marine environment and conservation.

The films range from four to 25 minutes long and are as varied as the ocean itself. Big-wave surfers charging down 50-foot mountains of water? Check. A beatnik-inspired ode to California? Yup. A story of a guy paddling on his belly and knees down 250 miles of the California coast? Yes, there’s that, too.

The movies were shot all over the world, from Alaska and British Columbia to Chile and Brazil.

One that has generated the most buzz is “Groundswell,” the new project from surfer and filmmaker Chris Malloy documenting the raw, rugged beauty of the British Columbia coast, with its pristine rivers and frigid waves. The film provides a frame into the larger discussion of oil pipeline construction in British Columbia and potential risks to the environment.

Similar themes are present in “Yukon Kings,” which tells the story of a grandfather teaching his grandson to fish for salmon in the remote Alaskan Yukon Delta. The Yup’ik fishermen in the film are “totally dependent on salmon for everything – both for their economic livelihood and also for food,” said filmmaker Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee. “It’s a very personal narrative of this grandfather.”

The film reflects a changing environment, a changing way of life and the social struggles faced by native communities. “It’s there in the backdrop,” said Vaughan-Lee, adding that “it’s not an issue-driven film, it’s a personal story.”

On a lighter note, is “Chasing the Swell,” which documents big-wave riders as they face down Mavericks, arguably Northern California’s most famous surf break. The film was shot in 2010, when the weather event El Niño brought in some of the biggest waves ever seen off the coast of Half Moon Bay.

Sachi Cunningham, who is both a documentary filmmaker and professor of new media at San Francisco State University, put together the film as part of a package for the Los Angeles Times that documented big-wave surfers chasing a winter swell across the Pacific. The piece got 500,000 hits in its first few weeks online, said Cunningham. As part of the festival, “Chasing the Swell” will be shown on the big screen.

“To see it on the big screen in a theater with a room full of people sharing the experience with you is just something you can’t capture on a small screen,” Cunningham said. “It’s more of a community experience.”

At the surreal and experimental end of the festival’s spectrum is “Ode to California,” which explores the northern coast of our state “through the eyes of Dada [artists] and beat poets and outsiders,” said photographer and filmmaker Patrick Trefz.

The black-and-white film shows images of California while Beat poets recite lines such as, “These liquefied, curvaceous forms of rebaptism shall always bring my mind, heart and soul into the essence of the 99.9 percent water in which I am.”

The Save the Waves film festival was born at the Mission District’s Victoria Theater in 2009, said festival director Josh Berry. “It’s an awesome event at an awesome old classic historic venue in an awesome neighborhood,” he said.

Learn more and buy tickets here.

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