You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

San Sebastián: Director Ira Opper Discusses Savage Cinema Title ‘Secrets of Desert Point’

Bill Heick and the “Golden Beards” head off to Desert Point in the early ‘80s

SAN SEBASTIAN — You would be hard pressed to find a more respectful regard towards action-sports films than the San Sebastian’s Savage Cinema program. Each year, the industry’s biggest game changers make their way to the shores of the Bay of Biscay and screen for cinephiles and industry professionals alike. This year, surf-history will be on display when surf filmmaking legend Ira Opper ’s ethnographic documentary, “Secrets of Desert Point” receives itsEuropean premiere on Wednesday.

The film is a composition of interviews, highlight reels and a classic “dirtbag” story that would almost certainly never happen today. Most of the footage was recorded by William and Bill Heick from the mid ’70s through the start of the ’80s. The film documents a bygone era in surfing when the sport was a counter culture movement and relegated largely to the fringes of polite society.

William Heick was a classic photographer who trained at the California School of Fine Arts under legendary teachers like Ansel Adams and Minor White. The skills he acquired there, along with access to ahead-of-its-time technology, are major reasons why “Secrets of Desert Point” was able to be made after so many years.

Bill Heick came to the field of filmmaking less traditionally. Raised with the means and support of a successful family, Bill found his calling in the water, or rather on the water. He and his group of companions, called the Golden Beards, spent their summers trolling the beaches of the west-coast and south Pacific looking for the best swell they could find. And find it they did.

Starting in Bali, Bill and his crew were constantly on the move to find uncharted swell where they could surf in solitude, away from the crowded waters of popular beaches. After chartering a boat and heading to a remote, often hostile, beach, the Golden Beards struck oil. For nearly a decade, the group had the run of a beach that is now famous among thrill-seeking surfers, Desert Point.

After showing the current state of affairs at Desert Point, and a few great waves shared by Bill and his son Andrew Heick, the movie picks up a social cause, as each surfer interviewed, old and young, American and Indonesian, commits themselves to protecting the environment that harbored them all. With increased popularity came increased pollution, and the beach now hardly looks like it did when Bill and his friends were living in grass huts, drinking boiled sea water, and practicing unlicensed medicine.

Director Opper has been making surfing films almost since Desert Point was still a secret. The film was produced by his own company, Opper Films, and he has recently developed a VOD platform for surfing films, TheSurfNetwork.com, where the film will stream. Opper talked with Variety about making the film, the state of surfing and his plans for the future.

How did you try to differentiate this film from other action-sports movies?

There are three components to “Secrets of Desert Point” that make this film a unique and compelling documentary. First is the protagonist Bill Heick, a rough-around-the-edges surfing adventurer and filmmaker; next is the ethnographic aspect of camping on a remote Indonesian desert island to surf a perfect wave; and third is the forty years of cinematographic documentation of Heick’s adventures on Desert Point.

“Secrets of Desert Point” is one of the most significant “dirtbag” adventures in the history of the sport. Simply, a group of friends discover a wave and strive to surf it to perfection, and all along keep it their secret.

How did your relationship with Bill come about?

Bill and I met on a snowboard expedition first descent of Victoria Peak in Canada. We wanted to snowboard a mountain in North America no one had boarded. During the down time he told me stories about his filmmaking father and Desert Point.

And when did you decide to make “Secrets” together?

Twenty years later, after his father passed away, Bill showed up at my Solana Beach, California studio with film in-hand to ask me to help him create a legacy video for his family. After I screened the footage and photographs I realized that there was more here than a family photo album. Heick’s footage was one-of-a-kind and could be the most important documentation of a pure surf experience since The Endless Summer.

For the next year Bill, Steve Barilotti (writer), Julian Clark (editor), Dustin Hood (technical director) and myself worked on crafting the documentary.

What kind of work did you have to do to get the film cinema-ready?

Most of the film and photographs were in excellent shape considering the age. Bill’s father was an accomplished photographer and therefore he used start-of-the art equipment in capturing the images and he implemented professional storage techniques. Traditionally, I would first craft a compelling story then go out to locate the images and interview the participants. I never had all the goods handed to me.

What is the climate like around the sport today? Can you compare it to the time of the events in “Secrets”?

In today’s world to experience a similar adventure like “Deserts” a surfer only needs a credit card, a surf resort, and the swell forecast. On Bill’s surf adventure they only had a compass and a sea chart, this is why “Secrets of Desert Point” is the last great “dirtbag” surfing adventure of the 20th century.

What are you working on now? What’s next for you and the film?

My primary focus has shifted from production to developing a new distribution platform for professionally-produced surf movies, www.TheSurfNetwork.com, the Netflix of surfing. “Secrets” is currently touring the global film festivals, with the European premiere at the San Sebastián Film Festival.

More Film

  • Aquaman 2018

    'Aquaman' Crosses $250 Million at Foreign Box Office

    Things are going swimmingly at the box office for “Aquaman” as the Warner Bros.’ superhero flick hits another major milestone overseas. James Wan’s take on the ruler of the seven seas just passed $250 million internationally, and a weekend haul of $126.4 million from 43 territories brings its foreign tally to $261.3 million. “Aquaman” — [...]

  • Mortal Engines

    'Mortal Engines' to Lose More Than $100 Million at Box Office

    “Mortal Engines,” a steampunk fantasy adventure, is also an epic flop. With a budget of just over $100 million and tens of millions in global marketing costs, executives at rival studios estimate that the movie will lose upwards of $100 million. Some even project that number could float to more than $125 million. “Mortal Engines” [...]

  • Thierry Frémaux, José Luis Rebordinos Honored

    Thierry Frémaux, José Luis Rebordinos Named Honorary Argentine Academy Members

    BUENOS AIRES — In a ceremony just before Friday’s prize announcements at Ventana Sur, Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux and José Luis Rebordinos, director of the San Sebastian Festival, were named honorary members of Argentina’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in a new move for the Academy, out through by its new president, Bernardo [...]

  • Nona

    Film Review: 'Nona'

    Twenty years and 12 features down the line, it’s still hard to peg the directorial sensibility of Michael Polish, with or without the presence of brother Mark as frequent co-writer and actor. His output has been all over the place, from early Lynchian quirkfests to the very middle-of-the-road inspirational dramedy “The Astronaut Farmer,” not to [...]

  • Pawel Pawlikowski "Cold War"

    Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Wins for Best Film, Director at European Film Awards

    “Cold War,” Pawel Pawlikowski’s black-and-white romance set in the 1950s, scooped the prizes for best film, director and screenplay at the 31st edition of the European Film Awards on Saturday. “Cold War” star Joanna Kulig also won the award for best actress. Marcello Fonte, the star of Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” won for best actor. Armando Iannucci’s [...]

  • The Favourite Bohemian Rapsody Star is

    The Best Movie Scenes of 2018

    When we think back on a movie that transported us, we often focus on a great scene — or maybe the greatest scene — in it. It’s natural. Those scenes are more than just defining. They can be the moment that lifts a movie into the stratosphere, that takes it to the higher reaches of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content