The opening moments of Highwater, Dana Point documentarian Dana Brown's latest film opening today in Orange, were worrisome.
With his 2003 directorial debut Step Into Liquid, Brown continued the pioneering work of his filmmaker father Bruce Brown, who turned the masses onto surfing with The Endless Summer in 1966. The younger Brown amazingly managed to do the same more than a quarter century later. Liquid was a surf film you didn't have to be a surfer to enjoy.
Rather than get pigeonholed, Brown stepped out of the water and into the mud with an equally excellent sophomore effort, the 2005 Baja 1000 doc Dust to Glory. It proved that this was a film career to watch, that Brown did not have to be on a beach to create compelling art.
Which brings up those opening Highwater fears.
The Outsider Pictures release begins with Brown talking about his family's surf filmmaking history (besides dad Bruce, son Wes Brown made Peel: The Peru Project and edited and associate produced Highwater). Dana Brown then welcomes the audience to his family's home away from home, Oahu's North Shore.
About the time you discover the film will spend one winter in some of the planet's fiercest waves, it hits you:
“Haven't we been here before?”
You know, like in Step Into Liquid?
(On a personal note, I still have North Shore scenes fresh in my mind from Stacy Peralta's Riding Giants, Mike Reola's 2009 Newport Beach Film Festival entry 5'5 x 19 1/4 Redux and, especially, Derek and Craig Hoffman's 2010 NBFF selection about the photographers and videographers fighting to capture North Shore action, Fiberglass and Megapixels.)
Brown showed so much promise moving beyond the surf that it just seemed too soon for him to wade back into the drink–let alone breaks that are already overexposed in the cineplexes.
But damn if this is not the thing about a Dana Brown film: with his co-camera work, quirky cuts, gravely narration of his own script, diverse background music choices and up close and personal interviews with everyone from common folks to superstars, he draws you in like a perfectly shaped wave.
Before you know it, you're so hooked you can't take your eyes off the thing. (And, in my personal case, I forget what had me pissed from the start.)
Highwater follows the men and women who gather for 55 days every year on the main island's “Seven Mile Miracle,” which is home of the Vans Triple Crown of surfing: the Reef Hawaiian Pro in Haliewa, the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing in Sunset Beach and the Billabong Pipe Masters in Pipeline.
As Brown did in Liquid, or in Dust to Glory for that matter, he excels at making the average viewer relate with his subjects. Here they include a single mom on Oahu raising three boys (including a projected future surf champion), North Shore natives who have watched–at times in horror–the transformation of their beaches and, especially, the breaks' kookier elements.
Brown's interviews with surf legends like Kelly Slater and Sunny Garcia and legends-in-the-making like Chelsea Georgeson and Huntington Beach's Brett Simpson, are more revealing, relaxed and real than what one finds in the usual surf porn.
Highwater is not going to change the filmmaking world. The Brown family is living testament to the fact that an Endless Summer or Step Into Liquid only come around once a generation. But Dana Brown can still push an audience off into a damn fun ride.
After checking out the trailer, scroll a little farther for details on screenings, an interview and audience Q&A's with the filmmaker:
Highwater opened today at AMC 30 at the Block at Orange, The City Drive & the 22 Fwy., Orange. Call 888.AMC-4FUN or click here for showtimes.
Dana Brown is scheduled to be interviewed live at noon Sunday on Costa Mesa's 101.5 KOCI FM.
To pepper Brown with in-person questions, you have to go to Santa Monica, where he takes questions from audiences after the 5:20 and 7:45 p.m. showings Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex.