Director: Stacy Peralta
Topic: A history of big-wave surfing, from its ancient Polynesian roots to today’s jet ski assisted search for the 100-foot wave.
Financier: Canal Plus
Budget: $2.6 million
Shooting format: 16mm and some 35mm
Why it made the list: Deft storytelling and editing respect surfing’s subculture while engrossing mainstream auds.
Memorable scene: Big wave astronaut Laird Hamilton riding Tahiti’s Teahupoo, a wave that has beheaded others, at a size no one had ever imagined before. After his ride, Hamilton, the surfing world’s iron man, breaks down and cries.
Distribution/broadcast status: Opened Sundance in January. Sony Pictures Classics acquired and opened theatrically in July.
Box office: $2.3 million
On making the film: Says Peralta: “We had a mandate: We never ever wanted to explain why these guys do this. If we couldn’t show it, we’d failed. Because surfing is such a popular subculture, there’s an opportunity to tell the world how this all came into being and how wonderfully subversive it was and is.
“I had to prepare for the studio a really detailed outline beat by beat. (After shooting), we cut the second act first. And then we looked at the third act and it was a disaster, which is ironic because it has all the sexy, modern tow-in surfing that people know about. It was flat and long. I told my editor, ‘Let’s just set this aside and work on the first part.’ When we did, it just came together. The first act was the part that was the most romantic — the beginning of surf culture. They were purely doing it because that’s what their hearts were calling for. Once that happened, I was able to go back and figure out how the third act worked.
“But that first act stuck with me. Those guys (on the North Shore in the 1950s) were doing it at a time when it was really counterculture. It was a time when it was very easy to have a house and a white picket fence, but they went the other way.”
Peralta’s next film for Sony Pictures Classics is a fictional buddy story set on the North Shore in the 1950s.