By Bobby Burk
The Billabong Jack McCoy Surf Film Festival rides into La Jolla on April 7. It's the second stop in its United States tour.
Emmett and Brendan Malloy's newest video "Fair Bits!" starring Australian surfing superstar Taj Burrows, and Jack McCoy's classic surf film, "Bunyip Dreaming," are the premier attractions this year and offer a slice of surfing culture on the big screen.
The art of the surf movie dates back to the 1960s when such films were created as home videos or no-budget productions and projected on the walls of high school gyms and cafeterias.
Four years ago, Jack McCoy and his film festival partner Sinclair Black realized they were missing the days of surfers hooting, hollering and pounding tables while surf movies played on the big screen. The Jack McCoy film festival was born as their response to the fading surf culture of old.
"In the true traditional form of hiring a venue, bringing the projector in, setting it up and showing your film, we felt that was sort of missing in our surf culture here in Australia." said McCoy. "What we tried to do was kick it off and get it going, and what we found in the response that we had was so amazing that we started going on the road."
The grassroots festival began in Australia in 2001 and was picked up by Billabong as the corporate sponsor two years later. It is now on its second tour of the United States, hitting 27 cities in summer 2005, including Canada and Puerto Rico.
At this year's festival the old and the new are blended as Burrows and crew face off against the McCoy classic "Bunyip Dreaming," the first movie McCoy made for Billabong in the late 1980s that features legendary surf stars like Mark "Occy" Occhilupo, Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew, "Munga" Barry, Luke Egan and the late Ronnie Burns.
"In surfing, Jack's the best we've got" said Sam McIntosh, a producer of two of the shorts featured in "Fair Bits!" "He always makes the best films, puts the most time into them and gets the biggest name surfers as well, so it's always good to be working with the best people. I love what the Malloys have always done, their surf films are typically more soulful, film-it kind of gigs. ... Just seeing their thought process and some of these wild ideas that are rolling around upstairs, it's pretty classic."
McCoy said the festival will be premiering the best film he could find this year, which he was happy to endorse.
"Fair Bits!" is a collection of video shorts from well-known producers like Taylor Steele and less-known producers like Sam McIntosh. Some of the shorts are hilarious, some are weirdly funny and, in others, the surfer is the focus.
In one shot, actor Ben Stiller takes a beer bottle to the head of current World Champion surfer Andy Irons.
For every land-bound short, however, there are two or three amazing sections of creative filming and surfing featuring Burrows.
"I really love the one with the coffee table and everything. I think that is extraordinary because a lot of that stuff can appeal to surfers and a mainstream audience," said McIntosh, referring to a segment of the film where surfers try their hands at riding a few unconventional boards. "It's pretty wild riding a coffee table and a door and all that stuff."
"Fair Bits!" opens with Burrows paddling through various bodies of water - an unknown inlet in the Australian outback, the Merced River in Yosemite National Park and the San Diego harbor beneath the Coronado bridge - on a journey to find the ocean and waves. Other memorable sequences keep the movie moving along: Burrows and mate Joel Parkinson tow-in surfing at a wave pool in Kuala Lumpur; Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and Burrows surfing a coffee table in two-foot slop; and a great clip of Burrows out-paddling 50 or 60 other surfers to immediately snag himself a set wave barrel, a shot that any California surfer can appreciate.
"Personally, I really, really enjoyed the sequence where they actually put the pictures on the wall and they're driving down an L.A. street and stuff," said McCoy, "I thought that was pretty trippy. I thought Ben Stiller's part was quite humorous, and I really liked the last sequence with the helicopter."
The highlight of the film is arguably the last section, shot by McIntosh, editor of Stab Magazine in Australia. The shot is an aerial view from a helicopter that provides a rarely seen view of the wave's lip from above, the shallow reef below and the wave being blown apart as Burrows surfs.
"Helicopter stuff has been done before," said McIntosh. "It's always done in big surf, and we just thought, you know, high performance is never shot that way. ... As it came together, the wind was offshore so it wasn't optimum condition for doing airs. But the water was beautiful, and we thought it looked incredible from the air. We could see the reef and everything below, and we just thought it was a different perspective. And it turned out really good."
When asked why people should check out the festival, McCoy was emphatic about recreating the old-school feeling.
"Taj's movie is going to look fantastic, and I don't think there is any better experience, you know, for a surfing movie, than being in a room with two or three thousand other surfers hooting and going off watching a great surf movie," he said. "We have something that we really feel strongly about in our surf culture. This is the way we used to do it, and that's what we're trying to bring back."
The Billabong Jack McCoy Film Festival will be showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 700 Prospect St. on Thursday, April 7, at 7 and 9:15 p.m. Tickets are $9 at the door or can be purchased at www.ticketweb.com.