By Tetsuhiko Endo
When you come to the Amstel Surf Film Festibal in San Sebastián, Spain, the first thing to do is forget everything you know about stuffy elitist European film festivals. You are the in the Basque country now, and the Basques do things differently.
"As surfers, we sometimes take ourselves much too seriously just because we participate in such a special activity," says Sancho Rodriguez, the organizer of the Amstel Surf Film Festibal in San Sebastián. "This festival is about having a laugh with other surfers, seeing great movies, and not taking ourselves too seriously."
The festibal took place over seven days and was packed with premiers, parties, short films, impromptu soccer games, musical performances, director interviews, art and photography exhibitions, parodies of all sorts, and even the odd Kelly Slater impersonator.
For those who haven’t been, which every surfer should endeavor to do at some point in his or her life, San Sebastián or Donostia in the Basque’s native tongue of Euskera, is one of the most revered resort cities in Europe. Over the years, its' been the summer home of movies stars, politicians, royals, and even the odd dictator. Not only does it have two beautiful beaches, it also sports a myriad of cultural centers, some of the most exciting cuisine in Europe, and a ciudad vieja (old town) that is legendary in Spain and throughout Europe for its never ending parties.
Along with surfing, having a good time is something the Basques take very seriously. The days were filled with five hours of screenings from various films and at least as much time with after parties, dancing, meeting surfers from across the world, and as the Hawaiians like to say, talking story. Combine this with five days of swell and you're looking at a good time.
With a brief but strong reputation as one of the more prolific film events in the industry, judges traveled long distances to lend their expertise on the film line-up. The judge's strong knowledge would prove to be necessary, with movies from such filmmakers like Taylor Steele, Patrick Trefz, Chris Malloy, and Michael Oblowitz.
“I love the Basque Country,” says Steele, who brought one of his children and both parents. “Showing a movie is a great excuse to come out here. Like New York (where he premiered Castles in the Sky) it’s a place that you don’t initially think of as a surfing capital, and yet the people are very passionate about surfing. Compared to a place like Southern California, where people see surfing everyday, people in cities like San Sebastián tend to appreciate it more.”
“This city has everything,” said Oblowitz, who took top honors for his film, Sea of Darkness. “It’s got the waves, it’s got the culture, it’s got the food — I absolutely love pintxos (the basque word for “tapas”) and it’s got great people. I’ve made a film about guys looking for freedom and in the Basque country; people have a special understanding of what that means, so it is very appropriate that I was able to show my film here.”
As with most things Basque, it was a long and intense seven days with lots of films and very little sleep. But it was also a celebration of surfing unlike anything else in the world. The ocean will once again go flat, as it often does in this strange little corner of the surfing world, but the family of surfers from the Basque country, to the USA, to Australia, and everywhere in between will be stronger than ever.