Anyone who still doubts that the Northeast has a thriving surf culture need look no further than the New York Surf Film Festival, taking place in Manhattan's Tribeca Cinemas from September 24 through the 26. In three short years, the event has become one of the preeminent surf film festivals in the world, along with San Sebastián in Spain, and St. Jean de Luz in France.
NYSFF Founder and Director Tyler Breuer credits some of the success to what he calls a prevailing "golden era" in surf filmmaking. "We are starting to see an incredible amount of films being put out by so many filmmakers from around the world," he said from the Dominican Republic, where he was making some last-minute preparations to bring a team of cigar rollers to NYC in order to provide complementary cigars to moviegoers. "The other festival directors and I grew up having to watch surf movie premiers in bars, clubs, or, on one memorable occasion, a seafood restaurant, so we decided that we really wanted to give these directors the platform that they deserve to tell their stories."
And what a platform it is.
Tribeca Cinemas, which also hosts the world famous Tribeca Film Festival will play double duty as theater and party space with two screening rooms, a lounge, dance floor, and full service bar. Music is coming from a variety of DJs and live performers including Brooklyn stalwart DJ John Bless and singer-songwriter Chris Arena. Tribeca may be one of the most expensive zip codes in the country, but don't expect the usual New York elitism. "There's no velvet rope and no VIP room," Breuer says. "Everybody is here for the same purpose, to enjoy themselves."
This year's marquee is crammed with an eclectic mix of films and most of the directors will be on hand for post screening Q & As. Representing high-performance surfing is the Julian Wilson biopic Scratching the Surface, and the paean to New Jersey surfers, Dark Fall. In the ever-growing category of socially minded films, God Went Surfing with the Devil follows a mission to take surfboards into Gaza, while Jonno Durrant and Stefan Hunt, the guys who brought us Surfing Fifty States are back with a profile on the surf community spawned at an orphanage in Mexico in Somewhere Near Tapachula. Floating in the categorical fringes are three projects that are highly anticipated for different reasons: Cyrus Sutton's Stoked and Broke, Patrick Trefz’s Idiosyncrasies, and the Dane Reynolds' non-bio, Thrills Spills and Whatnot. The largest category this year is documentaries which includes Allan Weisbecker's dream turned sour in Being Captain Zero, the epic Malloy odyssey 180 Degrees South, an unsparing look at Santa Cruz locals called The Westsiders, and a history of NYC's closest surfing beach, Shadows of the Same Sun, among others.
As usual, the list of shorts could be a festival in itself and includes entries from Jamie Tierny (Cypher Vision), Richard Kenvin (The Planing Totem), Mickey Smith (The Dark Side of the Lens), and Karim Rejeb (Lino).
As they have done in previous years, organizers will be showing two classic movies—Taylor Steele's era-defining Momentum, and Bud Browne's Gun Ho. By looking to the past, Breuer says he hopes to promote and preserve surf culture among a new generation. "In action sports there isn't always that reverence for history. Things get lost easily, so we try to pay homage to history, and educate, and make people aware," he said. "In the end, I think we are really trying to promote and preserve a sense of being connected to something—a much deeper sense of tradition. If we can educate people and make them aware, we are all better surfers for it and have more of a connection than just sharing an activity."
The gesture isn't lost on Dark Fall director Alex DePhillipo, who is trying to represent parts of the Jersey Shore that don't involve anyone named Snooky. "This festival brings a lot of recognition to what we are doing on the East Coast. All of a sudden, people are intrigued by what we have to offer. It's really special because, as a director, it lets me be part of the tradition of premiering my film…in New York City, no less. This is one of the best things you can do for filmmakers like me."
Outside of the films and parties, Breuer and his PR company, Don't Drop In, LLC have organized two additional events to supplement the festival. One is the "Rising Tide" benefit evening, which will take place on Wednesday, September 22 at the Brooklyn Grange. The benefit will showcase surf-related non-profits associated with the festival and will be hosted by Waves for Development founder Dave Aabo with special appearances by the Korduroy TV boys. Rumor has it there might even be a bit of tarp surfing. The second is the "Unconference" on Sunday the 26—a surf culture summit that will bring together filmmakers, journalists, non-profit workers, and industry types for some lively brainstorming, discussion, and debate.
"I think those guys have figured it out by getting the filmmakers to come," said Cyrus Sutton. "I'm excited to meet the directors, talk about filming and techniques, what I'm doing, what your doing, and basically just geek out."
Jonno Durrant agreed and added that he liked the mix of people the festival draws. "New York is such a melting pot of different
people and cultures and religions and nationalities—it adds diversity to the films, and also makes the audience really cool. Last year I met a lot of my surf filmmaking idols along with a bunch of people who had never surfed before. It's not like some of the other film festivals that are just meat markets and all about selling your work and impressing people. It's about people coming together to enjoy films."– Tetsuhiko Endo
For schedules, tickets, and to watch trailers, go to NYSFF.com.