As if propelled by a giant wall of water, Dirty Old Wedge got a huge push from the Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF), selling out three screenings before the eight-day cinextravaganza even opened on April 21.
More amazing is how the documentary on Newport Beach’s famous surf break came together. Tim Burnham, who is now 32, first started going down to the Wedge as a 12-year-old from Newps. “My mom wouldn’t let me go there, so she dropped me off at 40th Street with a couple of buddies, and we would make the trek down,” he remembers. “So rebellious.”
A graduate of Mater Dei High School and Cal State Long Beach, Burnham figures he has plied the Wedge waves consistently since 2000—and he has the battle scars to prove it. “Yes, I’ve definitely had my fair share of beatings,” he reports. “One of the more severe ones was when I ended up in the hospital in 2013 after hitting my head and tweaking my neck pretty good. It hasn’t been the same since.”
Two years before that, his friends Keith Malloy and Mark Cunningham made a film called Come Hell or High Water that included a section on the Wedge. The filmmakers mentioned to Burnham there could be an entire movie made about it based on its culture, history and clique of bodysurfers. “I knew some of the Wedge ‘elders’ had quite a bit of old footage lying around and figured it would be something people would want to see,” Burnham says.
One problem: He was an environmental consultant with “zero” filmmaking experience. So, as did many entertainment impresarios before him, Burnham recruited the expertise, including that of his friends Jack Murgatroyd and Edwin Eversole of Hunt House Pictures in Santa Monica. “We got the ball rolling with a Kickstarter crowdfunding effort, and the rest is history,” Burnham says.
Continuing the storybook was the opportunity to have Dirty Old Wedge make its world premiere at the 2016 Newport Beach Film Festival.
“When we got the news that we were accepted, we were ecstatic,” Burnham says. “Premiering the film anywhere else wouldn’t have been right.”
Demand from festival-goers led to the action-sports entry rolling three more times before the run ended Thursday, April 28. “The Wedge is a staple in the Newport Beach community, and the fact that we’ve sold out three shows truly exemplifies how much passion people have for that wave,” Burnham says.
Dirty Old Wedge should appeal to a wide audience beyond the 949 area code, from those who do not know about the surf break at the end of the Balboa Peninsula to those who have found themselves on the wrong end of a “locals only” enforcer’s fist.
Burnham takes us back to the 1930s, when the unique wave phenomenon was born, through to the beginnings of the “Wedge Crew,” an assemblage of eccentric, protective bodysurfers. The first-time director reveals how the Wedge has been covered by the media, how the innovation of bodyboards in the 1980s affected it, and how the birth of the blackball in the early 1990s sought to control “the beast.” He does not shy away from the deaths.
Leslie Feibleman, the longtime programmer of action-sports movies at the festival, says local surf films (such as Echo Beach and Living It Forever) have a history of selling out, even at the 600-seat Lido Theatre, which is not available until closing night because of remodeling.
“Although Dirty Old Wedge made its world premiere at a slightly smaller theater, it is on track to surpass all past local-surf-film sellouts,” she says. “Instagram and other image-focused social-media platforms [along with drone cinematography] have not only increased the popularity of the iconic surf spot worldwide, but they have also been instrumental in the promotion of the surf films at the NBFF. Gotta love the hashtags.”
The next stop for Burnham’s film is the fifth annual San Diego Surf Film Festival, which opens May 18. “We plan on continuing to submit to film festivals all over the country and world and hope to show the film in as many places as possible,” he says. “We also teamed up with a fantastic distribution team, Something Kreative [Studios], and with their large network, we intend on getting the film in as many outlets as possible.”
As for that day job . . .
“I’ve always been really intrigued with storytelling and would love to keep doing this in some way in the future,” Burnham says. “I’ve thrown a few ideas around with the Hunt House Pictures guys, and we may get something going again in the not too distant future. We’ll wait and see how this whole Wedge thing pans out first though.”
Pre-order the Dirty Old Wedge DVD, which is to be released by the end of summer, at www.somethingkreative.com.