'Facing Monsters' kicks off Solento Surf Festival
The Solento Surf Festival, founded by San Diego native Taylor Steele, the surf filmmaker and owner of festival sponsor Solento Tequila, kicks off tomorrow at the La Paloma Theatre with "Facing Monsters."
"Facing Monsters" profiles surfer Kerby Brown, who tackles the intimidating slab waves of West Australia. These waves move fast, through deep water, and then slam down in shallow reefs at full speed.
"I'm chasing these different, unique slab waves," Brown explained from his hotel in Australia where he was waiting to catch a flight to California to appear at the Solento Surf Festival. "Western Australia is such a raw, exposed coastline. It's got these mutant, crazy pieces of water and these waves that come out of really deep water onto these really shallow rock ledges. And they're quite unpredictable and rogue, I guess you would call them. And I'm looking for these different pieces of water to try and ride, basically."
"Facing Monsters" conveys what that experience is like in stunning footage that captures the beauty and terror of those waves. Cinematographer Rick Rifici took advantage of what state-of-the-art technology had to offer in shooting the film. He shot in 5K on Red Digital Cinema Cameras and employed prime lens so he would not "cheat" with a zoom. He also used a drone to get aerial shots that vividly show just how shallow and treacherous the ocean was where the waves were slamming down.
"It was an angle that Kerby and I spoke about that really shows the danger and the shallowness of the reef," Rifici said. "It's a really hard angle to capture. You can't see it from land because we're so far out to sea. No long lens will reach that far. Helicopters are super expensive, and you've got a time limit with fuel. So a drone was the obvious answer, and it just really shows that shallowness and also the thickness of the wave. It gives it a really good perspective."
It also lets us see a bit of what Brown sees.
"That's more what I'm staring at when I'm surfing the waves. I'm staring at the reef, and it's cool to get that aerial view so people can kind of appreciate what's going on."
Appreciate but also wonder what could possess someone to seek out such monster waves?
"There's a few factors," Brown said. "A big one is just kind of removing yourself from everything. And these waves are so remote. They're just in the middle of nowhere. And that really appealed to me, getting away from day-to-day life and just removing yourself completely and just being out in nature and being amongst this raw power of the ocean."
But "Facing Monsters" explores more than just the waves Brown surfs. It takes a deep dive into his personal life and inner demons.
"I guess to make a movie about your life, you really have to probably look at things in your life that maybe you wouldn't have before and dive a bit deeper into why you do things and the reasons behind them and kind of all this gets unraveled within the documentary," Brown said.
Brown craves the danger and challenge of these monster waves but his obsession baffles his family who worry about his safety. We see the physical abuse the waves can dole out, so we can understand the concerns of his wife and father.
"I just really wanted it to be a raw, honest look into my life," Brown said. "I'm not trying to sugarcoat anything. I don't feel like it's trying to glorify what I do. It's just a straight up look into what I'm doing."
Rifici not only faced the challenge of shooting out on rough waters but also dealing with situations where he was shooting his friend being thrown under a wave.
"There is a time where you're rolling on and you'll see Kerby wipe out, and you're sort of waiting for him to pop up, and it's like you're rolling on it, and it's like, okay, do I need to put the camera down now and jump in? Is he coming up? And then nine out of ten times, he would always pop up and he'd be okay," Rifici said. "But these waves are just unforgiving, and every wave is different. Nothing breaks in the same spot, so they're really hard to calculate and ride. You'll see in the documentary, there's the perfect example where things don't go as planned. That was one of those moments where, okay, it's time to go into survival mode, almost. I filmed a bit, and then it was time to go in a bit of a rescue mode. So, yeah, things can go wrong pretty quick. So you do get a good adrenaline rush out of it, which I love."
Rifici added, "Kerby decided to tell his story in the hope that it could help someone down the line and take them from a dark place to a better place."
The films help you understand Brown's obsession with the ocean, the adrenaline rush he gets from riding a wave that no one else has conquered and how he is trying to balance that with his love for his family. While his journey doesn't feel complete we get some insight into his struggles.
"Facing Monsters" launches its U.S. theatrical run at the Solento Surf Festival. It screens Thursday with an encore screening on Sunday. Following the screening on Thursday, festival founder Taylor Steele will host with an in-person Q&A with Brown and Rifici.