Nobody in Santa Cruz County needs to be sold on the majesty and the beauty of the ocean. All of our lives are oriented to one degree or another toward the mighty Pacific.
That means the upcoming International Ocean Film Tour at the Rio Theatre is already working with some “you-had-me-at-hello” appeal. At the same time, the ocean itself is a pretty intimidating distraction. The only question remaining is whether sitting in a darkened theater with this collection of short films is a more awe-inspiring experience than a couple of hours sitting on the sand at Its Beach.
The Ocean Film Tour is a package of seven short films strung together in one two-hour-plus program. In terms of mood, the films range from the meditative to the methodical, from the inspiring to the informational. And, yes, there’s some big-wave surfing, too.
According to tour producer Henry Lystad, there are only two elements that all of the films have in common: the ocean and general excellence. “To tie the films together, you’d have to have quite a long cord,” says Lystad. “The thing that holds this whole program together is that we really feel that these are the seven best ocean films of the year. The key to this being a successful annual program is the fact that we go out and source films regardless of whether they are shorts or feature-length films.”
Putting together a single program of the best films on any given subject, regardless of length, means that you can end up with a program nine hours long—which is not all that practical.
“We create edits of lengthy films that otherwise wouldn’t fit into a program,” says Lystad. “We create edits that keep audiences on the edge of their seats and really cut through the fog of things that sometimes make feature films untenable.”
Of the seven films to be presented Sept. 8 at the Rio Theatre, four are edited-down versions of films that were originally 60 minutes or longer. Individually, the films range from five minutes to 35 minutes.
To take one example, Paradigm Lost is a portrait of waterman Kai Lenny and his talent at riding waves on just about every board imaginable (kiteboarding, windsurfing, paddle-boards, big-wave surfing). As a stand-alone, Paradigm weighs in at just over an hour. As part of this program, it’s a 14-minute distillation.
“It’s a totally different experience,” said Lystad of the new edit. “You never change the story in documentary film, but you can change the flow—as long as you’re not changing the original intent of the filmmaker.”
One man’s relationship with the ocean is also the theme of The Ocean Rider, a Swiss film about a sailor named Yvan Bourgnon and his insane effort to sail around the world alone on a catamaran with no cockpit—“not an ocean-going vessel in any way, shape or form,” says Lystad—facing storms, pirates and other horrors along the way.
The magnificence of coral reefs is the subject of Vamizi, a Swedish doc that explores one of the world’s oldest coral reefs (a “mother reef” as it’s called) off the coast of Mozambique in southeastern Africa. Another short film, Water II, is a lush, visually rich look at waves from under the surface using a high-contrast, slow-motion camera.
Of course, it’s extremely unwise—maybe even illegal—to screen a seafaring film festival without some surfing. The Ocean Film Tour doesn’t disappoint, with an edited-down distillation of The Big Wave Project—Band of Brothers, a documentary which follows three surfers as they attempt to navigate the waves at Nazaré, off the coast of Portugal. It’s a place, says Lystad, where “the world’s largest surfable—or maybe not surfable—waves are found.”
The festival will also include a surprise film or two.
“What you’re getting,” said Lystad, “is this chance to buckle in, and we’re going to take you around the world several times as we criss cross the oceans.”
INFO: The International Ocean Film Tour will be presented at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $16. riotheatre.com.