Interview: Keith Malloy On “Fishpeople”

Catching up with Keith before the release of his new documentary

In just a few days, Keith Malloy and Patagonia's latest film, Fishpeople, will begin touring the United States. While Fishpeople features surfers, it's not actually a surf film. Instead, it's a documentary that explores the lives of six people who have been transformed by the sea in completely different ways: professional surfers Matahi Drollet and Dave Rastovich, deep-water diver Kimi Werner, open-ocean swimmer Lynne Cox, photographer Ray Collins, and youth worker Eddie Donnellan. With a diverse cast of characters that features oceangoers from all walks of life, Fishpeople is beautifully shot, well produced, and leaves the viewer with an understanding of just how powerful and positive the ocean really is. We caught up with Keith to get some insight into the project, and hear about the challenge of weaving six diverse stories together to create a full-length film.

This film is about six people whose lives have been transformed by the sea in totally different ways. How did you settle on each story?

A lot of brainstorming, and then picking the most interesting people I could come up with. I had relationships with some of them before the film started, but then there were others who I didn't know at all. We had a list of about 12 really worthy people who had super interesting stories about lives that revolved around the ocean, but in the end, we narrowed it to these six. We sort of took a shotgun approach in the beginning and then just let it all unfold [Laughs].

I thought it was interesting how these totally different people coexist in the film.

Thank you. It's a challenge to do a series of pieces. It's hard to encapsulate everything in short segments, but we went with what we thought felt was best. In the end, even though the stories are all different, they all connect back to the ocean, which is why they work together.

In Matahi Drollet's section, he has a quote about surfing where he says: "For a moment, I thought I was gonna die, but that's when I feel the most alive." It's powerful, the way he says it, and I felt like each person had a different, but similar, sentiment about how the ocean affects their lives. Did that happen naturally within each story?

Yeah, it just happened on its own, which was really cool. I presented all of these people with similar questioning, and each of them, in their own way, expressed something like that. I'm not a good writer, and I didn't do a lot of planning as far as scripting goes [Laughs]. I kind of just went out there with a theme in mind and a group of questions that I asked everybody, and I just hoped for the best.

From surfing to diving to introducing underprivileged children to the ocean, this film covers a lot of ground, with the common theme being how powerful and positive a force the sea can be. Since this goes beyond the surf audience, do you have a larger goal for this film?

I definitely want Fishpeople to resonate with people who don't have that ocean experience, as well as those who do. But yeah, hopefully it inspires non-ocean people, or at least makes them feel a little bit of what we feel. I was definitely trying to do something that anybody out there can watch, and hopefully everyone can take something from it.

It's cool that you and Taylor Steele are both releasing new movies around the same time, after you being in a lot of his films over the years, and now directing your own.

It's funny – neither of us knew we were doing films at the same time, and then I hit him up for some footage of Rasta, and we started talking, and realized that not only were we both doing films, but we actually have premieres in New York on the exact same night. Which is a total coincidence. But we have a great relationship, and I'm really looking forward to seeing Proximity.

What are the release plans?

We'll be doing a full tour, premiering it at theaters and Patagonia stores around the country, starting on April 13, at the La Paloma Theater in Encinitas. (For the full schedule, click here) And then it'll be available on iTunes on July 11.