Joe G. and Crew are Free to Roam

The visionary filmmaker on 'Cult of Freedom,' the state of surf filmmaking, and more

It's been more than three years since Joe Guglielmino (aka Joe. G) dropped his last longform surf film. The making of the quirky, beautifully-shot odyssey, Strange Rumblings in Shangri-La, which won a SURFER Poll award in 2014 for "Movie of the Year," demanded a two-plus-year effort, in which Joe G. and his merry band of Globe ambassadors circumnavigated the known surf-world, from Iceland to Brazil to East Africa.

With Joe G's newest venture, Cult of Freedom, the logistics of producing the film were simplified a bit.

"Right now, we felt like we wanted to make a big film, but maybe not go quiet for three years to travel, film, and make it," says Joe G. "We wanted to put all our effort into making another special film, but the idea behind Cult of Freedom is that we will just put it out in parts as we go. We're not creating a web series or anything. We don't want it to be stale or formulaic. We just want to be free to do whatever we want to do, and when opportunities present themselves, we'll jump at them.

“The Australia Part," which drops today, is the first of a yet-to-be-determined number of installments to the Cult of Freedom series, and captures a Globe Team that for the first time ever consists entirely of freesurfers, as they travel the western coast of —
you guessed it — Australia.

"We've always had such a diverse group of personalities, but with Taj, CJ, and Damo on Tour, it was sometimes hard to get time from all of them to just go explore," says Joe G. of his usual cast of characters. "Now, everyone from Noa Deane and Dion all the way to Damo or Taj is basically free to chase swells, fantasies, whatever, anywhere, anytime."

We recently caught up with Joe G. and asked him about narrowing the focus of his surf films and how to make an enduring surf film in the age of short clips.

Through the Cult of Freedom, are we going to be taken on a journey like Strange Rumblings in Shangri-La? Is there a story behind Cult of Freedom that will connect each installment or region?

Cult of Freedom should definitely take you on a journey. For The Australia Part we were into a pretty stripped-down approach, though. Nothing super fancy or fantastical. No really set-up shots. More of an on-the-road approach, but maybe viewed through a bit of a dreamer's perspective. I guess that's where I fit in to the whole thing. I get to stretch the story a bit by taking the real stuff that I found fun or interesting and filling in the gaps or shuffling the order so that it can fit a bigger narrative I'm hoping will come through—that's just this first part, though. The next part we do may just be 20 minutes of crazy surfing. I have no idea where it'll go.

How many installments are you planning? Will each one focus on a different region?

No idea, really. We are floating through the universe. If it pulls, we'll go.

Who'd you work with for the Australia part? Who was pushing the performance level? Who really surprised you?

For this one, we actually spent a lot of time with Taj in his very first days after retiring from the Tour. It was so fun to be with him and let him lead us on a little adventure down the West Coast of Australia. Dion, Nate Tyler, Eric Geiselman, Creed, and Brendon Gibbens were with us, and Noa Deane, of course. Noa was surfing this really over-wedged right we found and surfing it really, really nonchalantly, and it was very fun to watch. Jay Davies also joined us for a stint and blew our minds.

Is there a part—specific spot or performance that you think really stands out from the rest of the movie?

I think everyone stands out in their own way. Dion slots himself in one of the most beautiful shifting barrels I've ever seen. Noa charges death drops and whips his board all over the joint. Taj tears the guts out of every wave he rides. Nate thrashes. Creed glides. I could go down the list, but you get it. These guys are all pretty magical in their own way.

What were shooting on? You've done quite a bit of 16mm in the past, yeah?

Yeah, I shot primarily on super 16mm. We got our hands on an ARRI 416, which is the same camera they used to film Black Swan. I'm hoping it is the same exact camera they used—let's just say it is. It's the same exact camera Darren Aronofsky used to shoot Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman frolicking in Black Swan. It feels great to hold in the hand. Also, we have an incredible crew and had some great contributions from a group of guys on this one. It's a mix of 16mm and digital, and I think it looks pretty fun.

Strange Rumblings, along with Ryan Thomas' Psychic Migrations, are on a shortlist of surf films these days that have an enduring, re-watchable quality. Broadly, I wanted to ask you about the state of the surf film. People are always complaining about the public’s short attention spans and the temporality of the Internet. How do you feel about the current state of surf filmmaking? 

I think the current state of surf filmmaking is both really rad and really sad all at once. I think people are being trained to watch things for a really short period of time, mostly on their phones. This is rad because you can reach a lot of people with your vision and message, but it creates a rigid and limited framework with which to deliver in. If you want to make a traditional core surf film and visibility is your goal (or the brands who are paying for it), I find it's harder to justify these days because "the masses” aren't going to watch a longform piece on surfing. Plus, I actually get kind of bummed on big premieres because I think most people are there to party and couldn't really give a shit about your film. All that stuff is for your ego. Shitloads of views. Line around the corner. I'm not sure that it matters. The surf industry is strong, though and the numbers of real surfers who are truly interested in going surfing and watching films about it are growing every year. So one of the things we really wanted to do with Cult of Freedom was to do “no-ego” premieres, showings, gatherings, etc. at surf shops, community centers, and backyards just for people who care about watching a surf part. We did a few with The Australia Part and we hope to build that more and more as the project goes on and we get a little network of shops and high school surf teams who get to watch each new part before it comes out, just so we can bring that community together again. And weed out all those guys who are just there for the free drinks [Laughs].

Not to get ahead, but what will the next installment be and when can we expect it?

I hope we can get the next one out by spring. The boys are working on some stuff already and I think once this one gets the ball rolling again, we'll be jamming these things out on the regular.