Monday, August 23, 2010

HIGHWATER: the Brown family continues its love affair with the cinema of surfing

They do love surfing, those Browns -- father Bruce and son Dana -- as they've shown repeatedly in docu-
mentaries like The Endless Summer(s) and Step Into Liquid. Dana's back this summer with a new surfing movie titled HIGHWATER, during which the writer/
director and his crew visit the North Shore of Oahu, also known as the 7-Mile Miracle and/or the Xanadu of surfing.  Why this is and what it means to surfing and the surfers is nicely explained -- both scientifically and emotionally -- during the course of the film, in which we meet a large number of men and women who have built their lives (and sometimes those of their families) around the sport.

In Highwater, Brown fils (shown at left) returns to Oahu's North Shore to see if those big waves are still there.  The waves are there, all right, and they're great. Less so are some of this filmmaker's visual effects: speeded-up photography, slo-mo, and split screen images that, in the case of the scenic ocean vistas, rolling waves and amazing surfers, is somewhat akin to gilding the sea-lily.  Still the whole package makes for some amazing individual shots now and again, as well as some relatively interesting visits with various surfers who talk about their lives and their sport.

Along the way we learn why the Hawaiian waves on the North Shore are so huge, as well as the ways in which the area that encompasses the North Shore, and what surfers refer to as the Pipeline, has changed over the decades.  According to one fellow, the rich are continually buying up all the land and building houses, so eventually, one suspects, this will limit access to the place -- for everyone except those rich.

We learn that women -- and even young children of twelve or thirteen are now much more involved in professional surfing than was true in the movie-making days of Brown's dad.  We meet a few of these women and kids, and watch as they compete for the Triple Crown: the final three contests of the surfing year.

The men have their own contests and, as expected, much more attention is paid to them.  Later in the film we see a kind of hand-holding-in-the-ocean funeral service -- shown above -- for one surfer, Malik Joyeux, who is suddenly drowned.

After awhile, we've been introduced to so many different surfers that, for the novice surfer-watcher like me, identities begin to blur rather badly.  Certain people do stand out: Bethany Hamilton (shown below), for instance, the very pretty young blond surfer who lost an arm during a shark attack and still came back to surf again -- and surprisingly well.  Another pair of friends (just above), one of whom appears to have no legs, take their turn on boards.  

While the personalities of all these people barely come through (including that of one of the finalists--or was he a winner?--pictured below), even with the rather lengthy narration provided by the filmmaker, one of the group does indeed stand out for his reticence and mystery. This is Eric Haas, who likes to surf in odd costume and away from the crowds and competitions -- yet still seems to be among the very best of the lot.  

Toward the end of the film Brown catches some of the men speaking up about being able to earn their living doing what they love: getting paid for surfing.  One of them has managed to do this quite well.  But, as another notes, "You must be seen!"  Well, the North Shore is certainly the place to get this attention (cameras are seldom absent from the spot), and yet, what about Mr. Haas? Brown does not exactly say this, but Haas, shown below, seems to stand for  surfing on one's own -- with no PR machine, no organization behind him, no cares about competing -- simply for the love the activity.  This is accomplishment for its own sake, which exults in its own kind of success.

Highwater opens this Friday, August 27, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and in Hawaii ('natch!) on Oahu at the Victoria Ward and the Kahala, and on Maui at the Maui Mall Megaplex. Click here for additional playdates, cities and theaters in the California -- from San Diego to San Francisco -- and Washington, then click on showtime in the drop-down menu.

(All photos are from the film, except that of 
Mr. Brown, by Jeff Vespa, courtesy of WireImage.)

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