Over the last decade, Joe Guglielmino (it’s what the “G” stands for) has consistently proven himself surfing’s most imaginative filmmaker. From the cheeky sci-fi narrative of Secret Machine, to the beautiful doomsday sessions of Year Zero, Joe G has a knack for elevating his work above “surf porn” into the realm of legitimate art. And in an era where practically every 2-minute web clip pretends to be art, Joe G’s flicks stand apart now more than ever.
Strange Rumblings in Shangri La is his latest film, and it pays homage to great explorers such as Jacques Cousteau. Using deadpan voiceovers with a Wes Andersonian style, it tells a story about searching for paradise, only to realize the journey is much more interesting than the destination. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is. As surfers, we’ve been telling this story in different ways ever since Bruce Brown circled the globe back in 1966 (Joe G even thanks him in the credits). Yet somehow, that doesn’t make Rumblings less interesting or relatable. The film looks and feels novel, even if the concept isn’t, because while we’ve seen similar stories before, we’ve never seen Joe G’s version. The narrative is interesting and often funny, and the surreal imagery is beautifully shot in 16mm film. It’s a far cry from most high-action surf porn, but that’s not to say there is a shortage of good waves and surfing in Shangri La.
Keeping with the theme of exploration, Strange Rumblings greatest strength lies in the diverse locales. It features a mix of familiar surf zones, such as Indo and France, as well as more exotic fare, like berg-laden lineups in Iceland and an insane right-hand barrel in East Africa (yeah, that one). The crew—consisting of Dion Agius, Nate Tyler, Creed McTaggart, Brendon Gibbens, the brothers Hobgood, Noa Deane, and Taj Burrow—score great waves everywhere, and put on a hell-of-an air show, but the best sections for my money are the heavy barrels at Greenbush and Mozambique. At Greenbush they trade nearly-unmakeable lefts, getting some draining tubes and biblical beat downs in the process, and then Damien Hobgood paddles out and shows why he’s still one of the best barrel riders on the planet. The Mozambique section is plain stupid, with Creed McTaggart racing seemingly endless barrels at full tilt. It’s the kind of footage that makes you curse your local break and wonder if it would be possible to skip work for the next month to chase waves in Africa without your boss noticing.
In that sense, what may sound like well-trodden territory in a surf film proves to be no less intriguing than it ever was. Watching people search for paradise leaves you wanting to find one for yourself, and that never gets old.