Surf film festivals have become all the rage over the last 10 years. But so far, Florida hasn’t hosted a major one, belying its longtime role as the de facto capital of East Coast surfing. That will all change on November 15th-16th, when the inaugural Florida Surf Film Festival touches down at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach. With eight feature films, 14 shorts, a host of special events, and a community-centric spirit, no self-respecting Sunshine State surf film fan will want to miss the first year of this epic event. EasternSurf.com caught up with FSFF founder Kevin Miller to talk screening panelists, cinematic diversity, and the vital need for festivals of this kind.
ESM: First up, give us a breakdown of the films that will be featured at the Florida Surf Film Festival, along with which of any of the filmmakers will be in attendance.
Kevin Miller: We have a mix of films that represent a wide range of interest for documentary surf film fans. The 2013 program focuses on presenting new work by independent filmmakers and exploring the interplay between documentary films, surfing, our culture, and music. We're also happy to report that many of our films are not yet available to the public and may, in fact, make their Florida premiere at our festival. The films are broken down by feature and short documentaries: shorts are less than 30 minutes, and features are longer than 30 minutes. With rare exception, the features are less than an hour. Audiences will be able to see our 6:00 PM screening, and then choose between a 7:30 and 8:00 PM screening, and last, attend the 9:30 screening, totaling up to three features for our viewing audience per night. Shorts will act as introductory films to the features. Filmmakers from all over the world submitted over 120 films from which the FSFF made their official selections, and the program includes films documenting surfing from far eastern Russia, Australia, Morocco, Italy, and many more locations.
[Features: Good Morning Miyazaki by Matt Wescott; Almost Cut My Hair by Ryan Lovelace; Waverider by Karl Lear; Slow Dance by Quiksilver/Marine Layer Productions; SUP Pirates by Dave Boehne; Secret Sound Underground by Jack Coleman; The Heart and the Sea by Nathan Oldfield; and Hollywood Don’t Surf by Sam George. Shorts: Surfing Maroc by Eelke Dekker; Diamond Light in My Eyes by Phillip Mansfield; Anything Sing by Victor Pakpour/What Youth; The Present Moment by Will Suto; Handcrafted: Thomas Bexon by Mick Soiza; Compassing by Cyrus Sutton; Home Is Where the Surf Is by Branden Aroyan; Black Sapphire Sea by Andy Miller; Step n Soul by Toma Jablon; Groundswell by Chris Malloy; Shakas for your Chakras by Drew Miller; Abyss by Jay Grant/Billabong; Done by Blake Kueny; and Russia – Chris Burkard.
ESM: Will any of these filmmakers be in attendance at the festival? And what prizes will the festival be awarding?
KM: I can confirm the following filmmakers are planning to attend: Matt Westcott from Japan, Eelke Dekker and Ben Streek from the Netherlands, Mick Soiza from Australia, Branden Aroyan, Travis Ferre, and Victor Pakpour from California, Drew Miller and Dustin Miller from Florida, and Richie Fitzgerald from Ireland. As for awards, our categories will be Best Picture – Feature, Best Cinematography – Feature, Best Soundtrack – Feature, Best Short Film, and Viewers’ Choice Award.
ESM: How were the films chosen?
KM: The official selection process was highly freeform, but it breaks down to John Brooks, Co-Founder, Kristen Shearouse, Co-Founder, and myself viewing the films and deconstructing them for what will be our peers' sensibilities. We reviewed over 150 submissions from the Global Surf Film Festival Collective that selected our festival as one of their desired screenings and selected eight features and 14 shorts. We have actively gone after a couple of filmmakers who otherwise may not have known about the submission process or Florida Surf Film Festival. This has been another successful way to build such an impressive programming list. John Brooks has been instrumental in this.
ESM: How about the screening panelists? How were they picked?
KM: Our screening panelists came together in a grassroots kind of way. After we had decided to hold the festival here at Atlantic Center for the Arts, I asked [former pro surfer and celebrated surf journalist] Jamie Brisick for guidance and to serve as a screening panelist while he was here for a residency working on a piece about Ross Clarke-Jones. He obliged with many other insightful thoughts, and we were off and running. I called Matt Kechele, who expressed an interest after I described that we were, in fact, running the vetting process for the official selections with a high degree of quality as our baseline threshold for screening. Along came Allison Arteaga, Editor at ESM, through a reliable contact. She'll be a voice for the East Coast that leaves our festival's award process more enriched. We've also added some New Smyrna Beach color with Bryan Forand, Editor of Fluid Magazine, as a voice of our immediate community. Last, Richie Fitzgerald, who's been a surfing influence in my life ever since I showed up in his shop in Bundoran, Ireland, in 2006, and asked him where to paddle out. He's been a good friend ever since. Such is the case when the road rises before you... Thankfully, all of these accomplished voices have been enthusiastic to this rather late addition to Florida surf culture.
ESM: What will the schedule look like? Dates, times, locations, pre- or post-parties, etc.?
KM: Our schedule plays out as follows: Thursday, November 14th is for patrons of the festival, who are treated to a dinner with Richie Fitzgerald at Clancy's Cantina, followed by a screening of the award-winning film Waveriders, which took home the Audience Choice Award at the Dublin International Film Festival; a T-shirt; and a festival pass for November 15 and 16th. On those two nights, we'll open the doors at Atlantic Center for the Arts, located at 1414 Art Center Avenue, New Smyrna Beach, FL, at 4:00 PM with screenings beginning at 6:00 PM. Kulcha Shok music from Lance O will be on hand for after parties both nights, as will our sponsors from Cigar City Brewery and Green Room Brewery until 2:00 AM. We'll post more details on filmmakers and celebrities in attendance on our webpage at www.FloridaSurfFilmFestival.com and on our Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/FloridaSurfFilmFestival. Also, No Hodads Allowed, a film by local photographer and surf legend Kem McNair, will be featured in the Pugh Sculpture Studio as part of our focus on surf culture and personalities in New Smyrna Beach, FL.
ESM: There was originally a residency and workshop component of the FSFF, but that was delayed a year, right?
KM: Yes, our artist’s workshop fell behind schedule this year, and we're taking a hard look at the financial implications of the program, perhaps starting with the festival and feeling out potential demand for a program like this. We still believe it can work, but it requires more due diligence. Jamie Brisick is our advisor for this potential venture and will remain a screening panelist for the festival.
ESM: So whose films are you most excited about? And, in turn, who’s most excited about the Florida Surf Film Festival?
KM: Matt Wescott has made an incredible, visually stunning film in Japan with a beautiful soundtrack, and when we informed him that his film, Good Morning Miyazaki, was selected for screening, he was very pleased to say the least. We're definitely hoping he can make the festival, as he has expressed a desire to attend. All filmmakers will be given complimentary lodging at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, courtesy of the festival. Personally, I'm very excited to screen Chris Burkard's work from far eastern Russia. He's an award-winning photographer that will ground audiences in their seat with soul-satisfying images and settings that can't be seen at any other venue in Florida. That's just the beginning. Jason Baffa's work is nothing short of excellent documentary work. Nathan Oldfield's confidence and aesthetic is something to be witnessed on a screen bigger than a living room television.
ESM: Do you think surf film festivals are still viable in that sense of big-screen presentation, especially in this digital age, when most movies are available online immediately after being released?
KM: I think we offer a community event as much as cutting-edge films, and while some of the films are available on a computer screen near you, they are not necessarily available to you on a big screen with your community in attendance. Events like this give folks a chance to participate in the films and meet the artists who dedicated their lives to the craft of filmmaking. It's a unique experience and, in my opinion, a vital one out of the water for surfers to enjoy and ultimately be proud of.
ESM: Do you have any particular demographic in mind when planning an event like this?
KM: The demographics for our audience should extend from groms to geezers — we've built a programming list that will suit everyone's taste. We even have an SUP feature that we're excited to share. The Florida Surf Film Festival’s mission is to invigorate Florida surf culture through film appreciation and artistic expression by exhibiting contemporary films from filmmakers far and wide.
ESM: Will the festival be back in 2014?
KM: We'll definitely be back in 2014, along with quarterly screenings throughout the year. Last December, we screened This Time Tomorrow; in April, Dear Suburbia; and, just recently, we were lucky enough to be selected as one of ten international premiere locations for Cyrus Sutton's new film, Compassing.
ESM: Other information? Sponsors, tickets, etc.?