Peter Hamblin’s “RISS. A Film About More Love with Carissa Kainani Moore,” a documentary about the world champion surfer, will receive its digital premiere on May 7 on Refinery29’s Facebook Watch, followed by a Q&A with Moore.
The film, produced by Red Bull Media House and Hamblin Imagery, will also be available on Red Bull TV on demand from May 11, and as a three-part series on Refinery29’s YouTube channel, together with custom editorial and social content, including a special “Power Diaries” feature with Moore.
Moore, who is from Hawaii and is known as “Riss” to her friends, was the youngest ever world champion – at the age of 18 – in professional surfing, and has gone on to win four world titles. The film follows Moore across the 2019 World Surf League championship season, where for the first time in three years she is back in the race for the league title, as well as fighting for Olympic qualification.
Writer-director Hamblin says: “My goal was to peel back the layers and show the person behind the athlete; to show the layers of Carissa’s personality. Everyone sees the athletic side of her, but I wanted to focus on the complexity of her character and what an inspiring force she is.”
In the three years prior to the film, Moore had failed to be a contender in the title race. The world tour works on a points structure, and by mid-year you can generally see from the points which surfers have a shot at winning the world title, while others just don’t have enough points to contend. “So simply put Carissa was not winning events in previous years and wasn’t getting enough points to be a world title contender,” Hamblin explains. “I don’t believe she was in the right head space, but in 2019 it all came together. It was inspiring to witness this journey.”
In the film, Moore discusses how she has reassessed her goals in an attempt to understand what truly makes her happy. At one point, Moore says to camera: “I feel like the trophies, the accolades, all those things are awesome, but they are really short-lived, they are only temporary and what really matters is how you make people feel and the love that you share.”
Hamblin says: “From my perspective, one of Carissa’s greatest challenges (much like the rest of us) has been defining her purpose and what makes her happy. She realized early on that trophies and wins are short lived, and true happiness is found closer to home. The film really covers the lessons Carissa has learnt along the way and encourages young people to ‘Follow their dreams, be authentic and make time for others,’ because, as clichéd as that sounds, this is what Riss lives by and what I believe truly makes her happy.”
South African-born, London-based Hamblin, best known for his 2016 Emmy award-winning surf film “Let’s Be Frank,” is a surfer himself, which helped him understand the surfing world Moore inhabits. “I think growing up near the coast and surfing from a young age has given me a basic grounding, and I have worked in the surf world for a number of years, so I understand the culture,” he says. “But to be honest nothing could have prepared me to understand Carissa’s point of view, prior to working with her. She is a consummate professional and holds herself to a very high standard.”
He adds: “Professional surfing at its highest level is a world that very few people get to see or experience and it was only through spending time with her that I was afforded the opportunity to gain a real understanding. This is what made the project so fun. The concepts and script developed from us hanging out, understanding each other, peeling back the professional persona and becoming friends. When we became friends everything came together.”
The film’s soundtrack is a high-energy cocktail worthy of Red Bull itself. “Music is so important to set the tone; it is so emotive. Throughout, I wanted the music to reflect the energy Carissa was putting out and didn’t want to settle for stock standard background tracks,” Hamblin says. “I was very fortunate that Red Bull Audio Library had a diverse spec of music. I targeted Awolnation, a band that I have used in the past. I think their lead singer surfs, and after digging deeper into their tracks, it seemed like everything aligned. The music spoke about passion, the ocean, and felt like the glue I needed to bind this baby together.”
Hamblin uses a range of media, including home-movie footage from Moore’s childhood, and animated sequences, to illustrate the film – an approach that was inspired by Moore herself. “Carissa loves scrap booking, so this motivated the treatment. I used a range of different film techniques to visually enrich and create a unique cadence to the film. I wanted to have fun with it, I wanted to learn,” he says.
“I come from a digital background and had never shot on film before, so I saw this as an opportunity to experiment with film, both 8mm and 35mm stills. I didn’t want technical specs to limit me on this, and so I captured moments on everything including iPhones.
“We shot on a range of cameras from the Phantom at 1000 FPS, to RED, Panasonic S1H, Nizo 8mm, Leica M3. I wanted the audience to literally feel the surfing, that’s why we shot it on the Phantom with an insane DP, Chris Bryan. To juxtapose this, the moments to camera with Carissa needed to be authentic and sincere so I went hand-held with no crew, to make it more intimate and to capture a raw feel.
“We sugared it up with illustration and stop-frame animation, so it should feel like turning a page in Carissa’s scrapbook.”
Red Bull Media House and Refinery29, whose audience is largely women, are joining forces for the premiere, leveraging their audiences to ensure the documentary reaches a wide spectrum of viewers and sports fans alike.
“At Refinery29, our goal is to celebrate women pushing the status quo and provide a platform for them to tell their stories,” says Amy Emmerich, global president and chief content officer of Refinery29, which is part of Vice Media Group.
Emmerich says that the partners sought to “highlight Carissa’s inspirational journey” as part of their efforts to “spotlight female voices who are so often undervalued compared to their male counterparts.”
A Red Bull Media House spokesperson says: “Refinery29 has an audience that engages with stories of strong women, even if they are not previous fans of professional surfing. So it was both a natural fit and a way to bring Carissa’s story in front of a broader, engaged audience.”
Red Bull Media House has a long history of featuring women competitors in its productions, including documentaries on Lindsey Vonn in “The Climb” (2015), and Mikaela Shiffrin in “Peak Season” (2018), and more recently a short-form series on women making major impacts in their sports, “Change of Pace,” that feature episodes on WNBA star Breanna Stewart, Olympic hockey gold medalist Hilary Knight, and motorcycle racing star Shayna Texter.
Red Bull has sponsored Moore since 2007 and featured her story in multiple short-format series. “Last year, presented a special opportunity to tell both the story of her World Surf League season and Olympic qualification run, and her broader life story,” the Red Bull Media House spokesperson says.
The next film from Hamblin, who founded his U.K.-based production company Hamblin Imagery in 2009, is a fiction comedy short starring BAFTA-winning actor Celyn Jones entitled “In Hope of Nothing.” It follows two brothers, negotiating the trials and tribulations of producing a Hollywood movie.