×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

San Sebastián: Film Constellation Rolls Out Rory Kennedy’s Laird Hamilton Portrait ‘Take Every Wave’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Kennedy talks about the human focus driving ‘Take Every Wave’

SAN SEBASTIAN — Suggesting the pull of major documentaries on extreme sports legends, London-based Film Constellation has rolled out Rory Kennedy’s weighty “Take Every Wave: the Life of Laird Hamilton,” a portrait of legendary big wave surfer, to multiple major territories.

In banner international deals, Film Constellation has closed France (Groupe AB, Canal Plus), Germany/Austria, one of Europe’s biggest extreme sports movies markets (Universum), China (Jushi Films) and Latin America (Polar Star). Cai Chang has acquired Taiwanese rights, Captive those for airlines.

Previous sales were closed together with UTA Independent Film Group for Canada with Mongrel and for Australia with Madman.

In a deal announced this April, UTA brokered a U.S. sale to Sundance Selects/IFC Films, which will release “Take Every Wave” on Sept. 29. The U.K., Scandinavia, Spain and Japan are currently in negotiation, according to Film Constellation founder Fabien Westerhoff. The two-hour documentary feature world premiered at January’s Sundance Festival and had its European premiere this weekend at Spain’s San Sebastián Festival, playing in its Savage Cinema section. “Take Every Wave” will now segue for its U.K. premiere on Oct. 5 at an IMAX screening at the BFI London Film Festival.

Directed by the Academy Award-nominated Kennedy (“Last Days in Vietnam”), “Take Every Wave” is written by Mark Bailey and Jack Youngelson, produced by Kennedy, Paul Speaker, Bailey, Youngelson, and executive produced by Jonathan S. Marshall and William Cawley.

Mixing archive and new footage with interviews with Hamilton, multiple friends (and sometimes ex-friends), surf journalists, his step-father Bill Hamilton and wife Gabrielle Reece, “Take Every Wave” flashes back from a present where Hamilton is nervously listening to radio reports about El Niño creating historic sea swell. “Take Every Wave” records his early life growing up in on Pūpūkea beach on Hawaii’s Oahu North Shore, where, “100% disobedient,” as his half-brother puts it, he was beaten by his father and bullied at school, but found peace in the ocean.

As its trailer suggests, the bio-doc goes on to feature spectacular footage of Hamilton in the early ‘90s surfing big waves at what came to be known as the Jaws surf break off the north-central coast of Maui. There, with the rest of the Strapped crew, he invented tow-in surfing, the practice of a surfer being towed by a jet-ski into the ocean so as to catch big waves – which caused huge controversy. It also naturally takes in his historic feat in 2000 at Tahiti’s Teahupoʻo break when he surfed what is described as the heaviest wave ever, plus his present passion for foil boarding and fated decision to bring in cameras to shoot his Jaws exploits – which turned him into a celebrity and changed the face of surf forever,

But the real focus of “Take Every Wave” is as much psychological, and a question which Kennedy says she asked herself when a child whose family friends included tennis champion Billie Jean King: What drives an elite athlete to attempt such extraordinary feats?  Variety talked to Kennedy just before “Take Every Wave” played San Sebastián:

“Take Every Wave’s” press notes talk about your films addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues: poverty, corruption, domestic abuse, human rights, mental illness. What is the most pressing issue addressed by “Take Every Wave?”

This is a different kind of films from most of the ones I’ve done. It’s part of the appeal, frankly, that it was so different. I was challenged in ways I hadn’t been in my other films. There’s the technical questions: How do you capture a guy on a wave? But what drew me is that I felt it had a great story, the character’s so rich, one of the great individualists, someone who’s forged his own path, who’s changed the sport in radical ways. If you look at other sports, you haven’t seen so many extreme changes.

You go beyond the what to the why: What drives Laird Hamilton? You seem to locate two important answers: One, his childhood and another the need to justify technology in general, in what it allows big wave surfers to achieve. I don’t know if you’d agree….

I think Laird is definitely driven by demons from his childhood, and we explore it in the film. And I think he has an internal drive, which, y’know, nature/nurture. He was driven, from a very young age had a love and passion for the water, he’d push the envelope at home and school, with people in positions of authority.  But he managed to harness that part of himself, invest it into something that ultimately was quite satisfying for him. The surfing is a nice backdrop. But at the forefront what drove me was what it takes for a human to achieve greatness, push the envelope, do things nobody else has ever done, at the risk of great personal peril.

One important thing is chance. Just as big wave surfing was coming onto the media radar, he met Gabrielle Reece, who was working on TV, and was more clued into what the man she fell in love with could offer as a media brand. 

I think it played a role. But it speaks to something bigger; when you are so singularly focused in your life there’s gonna be cost and consequences. Those [Strapped] friends were of great value to Laird at that time. But he has to move on and find some other people who’ll continue to help him achieve his goals. If you’re onboard with that, it works. If not, it doesn’t work so well. I think you can say with Gaby and other people in his life, it is the cost of greatness, to some degree.

Laird himself says that he “didn’t reject competition as much as judgment.” To what extent did he’d view you, as a director, in the interviews or finished film, as a possible source of judgment, and thus feel slightly uncomfortable.

That’s a brilliant question. I think he and Gabby are very open, he was incredibly generous, he put me in touch with family and friends that he has a strange relationship with. The interview was done over four days, three hours a day, we covered a lot of ground and I think he was largely open with me. But I think it was not always a comfortable place for him. It was a process of making him feel comfortable and not really forcing anything per se. Some things I did force in the beginning, I really wanted editorial control. There were some ground rules agreed to early on.

More Film

  • Bertrand Tavernier Hosts Night of Cinema

    Bertrand Tavernier Hosts Night of Cinema Inspired Orchestra in Paris

    Flanked by UniFrance president Serge Toubiana and the National Orchestra of France, filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier stood before a rapt crowd at Paris’ Maison de la Radio this past Saturday to introduce an evening dedicated to French film scores called “May the Music Begin!” That moniker – a reference to the original French title of his [...]

  • Orange Studio Sells Out 'Serial (Bad)

    Orange Studio Sells Out 'Serial (Bad) Weddings 2,' 'City Hunter' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paris-based Orange Studio has nearly sold out its two French comedy highlights, Philippe de Chauveron’s “Serial (Bad) Weddings 2” and Philippe Lacheau’s “City Hunter.” “Serial (Bad) Weddings 2,” which opened the UniFrance Rendez-Vous in Paris last week, is the sequel of the smash hit film which grossed over $148 million worldwide. The movie has been [...]

  • Danmarks Sønner, en film af Ulaa

    Trailer for Rotterdam Competition Opener 'Sons of Denmark' Released (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the trailer for the opening film of Rotterdam Film Festival’s Tiger Competition, “Sons of Denmark.” The film is a political thriller set in Denmark in 2025, a year after a bomb attack in Copenhagen, when ethnic tensions are running high. An ultra-nationalist politician, Martin Nordahl, and his National [...]

  • Indie Sales Acquires Martin Lund's Nordic

    Indie Sales Acquires Nordic Coming-Of-Age 'Psychobitch' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paris-based company Indie Sales has acquired Martin Lund’s Norwegian coming-of-age drama “Psychobitch” which is headlined by Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne (“Utoya: July 22”). “Psychobitch” marks the first feature film of Martin Lund, who made his debut with “Twigson Ties the Knot,” a local box office hit, and followed up with “The Almost Man,” which won [...]

  • Studiocanal has sold Jean Paul Gaultier's

    Jean Paul Gaultier's 'Freak And Chic' Documentary Sells For Studiocanal (EXCLUSIVE)

    Underscoring the strength and scope of French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s legacy around the world, the documentary “Jean Paul Gaultier Freak And Chic,” which chronicles the making of Gaultier’s ongoing popular show in Paris, has been luring distributors in key markets. Sold by Studiocanal and produced by Capa, the documentary has already been picked [...]

  • Korea Box Office: 'MAL·MO·E' and 'Inside

    Korea Box Office: 'MAL·MO·E' and 'Inside Me' Remain on Top

    There was no change at the top of the Korean box office, as local titles “MAL·MO·E: The Secret Mission” and “Inside Me (a.k.a. The Dude in Me)” dominated a second weekend. Lotte’s “MAL·MO·E” earned $4.79 million from 618,000 admissions between Friday and Sunday for a total of $16.7 million from 2.23 million admissions after two [...]

  • TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT

    China Box Office: ‘Bumblebee’ Flies to $138 Million Total

    “Bumblebee” flew to its third weekend of dominance in China. But the Chinese box office remains in lackluster mode at the start of 2019. The spinoff of Paramount’s “Transformers” franchise earned $16.1 million in Chinese theaters between Friday and Sunday, according to data from exhibition and distribution consultancy Artisan Gateway. That was a 38% drop [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content