The Save The Waves Film Festival has emerged as one of the fastest growing surf film festivals in the world. It’s going bi-coastal this year with stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. I caught up with Josh Berry, a filmmaker and the founder and director of the Save The Waves Film Festival, just before the craziness of running a three stop surf film festival madness ensues to get his thoughts on the festival and the sate of surf cinema.
Tyler Breuer: What is Save the Waves and why does it have a surf film festival?
Josh Berry: Save The Waves Coalition is a tiny non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the coastal environment, with an emphasis on the surf zone. Save The Waves Film Festival was created as a fundraiser and a soapbox when, in 2009, the organization had a couple of short films to screen, and we noticed that we could probably do our own film festival better than a lot of the film festivals that we had participated in. So we did it once, in San Francisco, and it snowballed into pure awesomeness!
What sort of films do you look for in the selection process?
We look for a great story first. A story about the ocean, or about people in the ocean, or an alternative take about life on the edge of the ocean. Eco campaigns, big wave adventures, travels and more. Original, compelling, inspiring stories are what we look for.
This is the first year that the Save the Waves Film Fest is expanding beyond California. What are you hoping to achieve with the expansion of the festival?
By visiting LA and New York, we really just want to share the inspiration and have fun at great venues with our friends. They both have amazing music, art and surf scenes, and we want to celebrate this with everyone.
Are there any common themes among all the films in this year’s festival?
A love for the ocean and everything it offers our community, both good and bad.
Your festival seems to have a different format in the sense that people only have to pay once for an entire evening of films as opposed to selling tickets for individual screenings. What are benefits to a format like this?
It’s easier for us to manage it! But seriously, we’ve found this format is more festive and makes it about connecting with the audience, the live music, and the films. This way it’s an experience for everyone and it’s not just a consumer sitting in a seat passively watching a screen. Nowadays, everyone spends their time passively on the Internet, staring at screens all day at work, and we’ve found that people are starved for real events with entertaining multimedia content. You can get that spending $120 at a mega concert in a stadium, or try Save The Waves Film Festival for only $20.
With the constant releases of films via the Internet for free, is it getting harder to organize a surf film festival?
I’ve spent a lot of time in surf communities all over the world, and I think the surf community is an incredibly vibrant and strong unit wherever it is. Like I mentioned, people are starved for real and entertaining events with their actual friends and community. Free Internet content is great, and there is a ton of really good film on the Internet, but who really wants to sit alone and watch a computer screen? Streaming the Internet on your living room TV is boring. It’s so much better with friends and community at an epic venue on a giant movie screen. And you get to watch the world premieres at our film festival with a theater full of screaming, happy people!
Do you look outside of the surfing world for inspiration and new ideas for your festival?
I avoid reading surf magazines or websites. The ocean is my key influence. Big, empty, cold water surf clears my mind and is a deep source of creativity for me. This sounds cheesy, yes, but so true and so inspiring. Jim Jarmusch is another key influence, for his absolute mastery at seamlessly combining world-class art with great story.
Do you believe that we are in a golden age of surf film or the decline?
I think it’s a golden age. There is a lot of garbage out there, but with skilled hands and some technical savvy, you can make a great film with no budget. You couldn’t do that 10 years ago because film was always prohibitively expensive to do right. Not anymore. That is golden. Look at what The Inertia is doing with its short documentary films.
If you had $1 Million to commission a surf film, what sort of film would you like to see made?
I would ask storytellers from all over the world to help make one 30-minute film featuring a series of true and emotional stories about imperfect humans all over the world who are united by their love for the ocean and surfing. Perhaps they struggle with balancing surf time with family time, or their health is threatened by polluted waters, or they’re getting old and can’t surf very well anymore, or they surf too much and sacrifice a promising career… These are all real challenges faced every day by real surfers that we never address in the media. Kelly Slater’s story is epic, but so are the every day struggles of non-champions.
Save The Waves Film Festival is set to visit Los Angeles, Brooklyn and San Francisco. Tickets are now available online for Save The Waves Film Festival, coming to a city near you in November. This annual event – now in its fifth consecutive year – benefits the non-profit environmental programs of Save The Waves Coalition and World Surfing Reserves.
The complete films program, film festival details and tickets can be found here.