The La Costa Film Festival offered a double-dose of extreme sports on Friday evening, screening Heaven’s Gate and The Essence of Surfing back to back in the Ruby G. Auditorium. The small library theater saw a good crowd for two relatively niche-genre movies, with people lining up early to get their seats. Both titles preceded Saturday morning’s open and free ‘Extreme Sports in Film’ panel at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa.
As a pair, I thought it was a really good idea to showcase these two films on the same platform. One offered a unique look into the mind of Red Bull’s wingsuit pilot, Jeb Corliss, during his remarkable flight through Heaven’s Gate in China’s Tianmen Mountain. The Essence of Surfing, on the other hand, takes viewers to the heart of all surfers – pro’s, beginners, big wave experts and weekend warriors- highlighting the common thread that joins them together. Both are visually exceptional, with world-class cinematography leading the narrative through places where athletes just don’t have the eloquence or language to explain the depths of their obsession with nature’s limits. One film wows you, but makes you feel completely intimidated by the risk and logistics of flying a wingsuit, while the other demystifies surfing and gives you the feeling that anyone could do it.
Jeb Corliss is an intense character. Not just because he likes to jump off cliffs, bridges and out of helicopters with a wingsuit that allows him to get as close to Superman as any human being has gotten – it’s his demeanor. When he talks and explains his motivation, there’s a supercharged, hyper-alert energy pulsing through his brain, stronger than drugs or madness. Even among a group of the world’s elite wingsuit pilots, who round up the cast, he stands out as the leader in a gang of merry daredevils that won’t stop pushing the limits, no matter how high or fast they go.
The film is centered around Corliss’ flight through Heaven’s Gate, a giant hole in China’s Tianmen Mountain, a mystical range that is surrounded by fog banks, forests and ancient walking trails. Scripted and directed by Nic Good, Heaven’s Gate takes us through his monumental attempt and the media circus that erupted during it. The combination of scenery and first-person GoPro angles during flights, and the human interest angle threaded in for good measure, made it really easy to watch (but hard to imagine ever trying myself). Forty seven minutes flew by, so to speak. As with so many of Red Bull’s projects, the production was seamless and execution perfect. My only complain was the mistimed sound dubbing during the film itself.
The Essence Of Surfing
No matter how corporate or well-organized the surf industry gets, the actual subculture of surfers will always be viewed with some level of playful endurance. You can’t excuse the fact that surfing is, at its very core, a child-like endeavor. But that’s a rare, wonderful thing that stands out in today’s world of materialism and fame mongering, and part of what makes surfing so pure and special. Directed by commercial creative, Philip Waller, and produced by renowned big wave surfer, Dan Moore, the film unpacks the reasons, according to surfers themselves, “why surfing is the greatest sport in the world.” And they do a great job of stating their case.
As a surfer myself, what I really enjoyed was the completeness of their portrayal of surfers. It wasn’t all palm trees, blue water and shakas (although there was a fair bit). But surfing is not just about the good days. You’re still a surfer when the waves are flat, when the water’s freezing cold, when you’re a kid playing on a boogie board in the shore break and when you’re a grownup day dreaming at your desk. The cinematography by Mike Prickett and Erik Ippel is amazing and most in-the-know surfers will recognize a lot of the action footage from other films over the last four to eight years or so. But it’s really cool to see it all repackaged for a non-surfing audience.
One of the most alienating things about any extreme sport is how the activity and athletes are put on an elevated and intimidating pedestal, making it seem impossible for any regular, red-blooded man or woman to get into without inflicting serious bodily harm on themselves. What was cool about The Essence of Surfing was the inclusion of big, hairy, gnarly waves, coupled with a variety of interviews that almost normalized the pursuit.
Buy The Essence Of Surfing on iTunes here
It was a great evening and props must be given to the festival organizers for including these two great films in the festival and we hope to see more of the like next year!