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 Volume 14, Issue 96  |  December 2, 2022


Film festival celebrates an enduring love of surfing and the people who capture the moments through the years

By THERESA KEEGAN

It’s no surprise the Coast Film & Music Festival has a special focus on water. But this year’s event also featured the evolution, passion and commitment to capturing surfing through the generations.

From the opening night’s intimate showing of Five Summer Stories at the Downtown Hobie Surf Shop, to its sold-out showing (with live music) at the Festival of Arts and right on through to awarding the prestigious Follow the Light surf photography award, the love of this sport was evident throughout the festival.

Both esteemed filmmaker Greg MacGillivray, who in the 1970s was breaking into new film territory, as well as Follow the Light Surf Photography Grant Program (FTL) winner Kalani Cummins, spoke of the magic of capturing surfing as well as the wonder of filming the powerful ocean. The universality of their experiences may span decades, but it is timeless. 

“I had a hankering to do one more film, just for surfers,” MacGillivray recalled of his 1972 film. At the time, he was working with the late Jim Freeman, and they’d just connected with Hollywood assignments and were ready to move onto the big league. But as a Laguna resident, surfer and ocean lover, MacGillivray wanted to capture what was occurring in the surfing – and larger world – at the time. 

film festival honk

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Photo by Scott Brashier 

The popular band Honk, which provided the music for the original film, gathered again to accompany the sold-out showing of “Five Summer Stories” at the Festival of Arts 

 “Surfing was undergoing a shift of its own – boards were smaller, speed was becoming much more important,” MacGillivray recalled. “The culture was changing. There were various aspects of surfing that were controversial at the time, such as competition and losing surfing spots.” 

In addition, the country was changing. The Clean Water Act was signed into law, people gathered en masse for the first Earth Day, women were demanding equal treatment and there was a new sense of responsibility about the environment. 

“It was such a big change in society,” said MacGillivray. “There was a new attitude toward the ocean and the air as resources and that they needed protection.”

film festival greg

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Courtesy of MacGillivray Freeman Films

Following the showing of “Five Summer Stories” at Hobie Surf Shop, film director Greg MacGillivray signed copies of his new memoir “Five Hundred Summer Stories,” which chronicles his experiences producing movies for the past 50 years 

Five Summer Stories reflects these changes in the various movie sections, with each story lovingly capturing one aspect of surfing. While many thought MacGillivray was developing a new movie style, in fact he admits the separate stories were dictated more by necessity than inspiration.

“We kept going back to Hollywood and then would shoot this when we had the time and money,” he said. 

The movie became a cult-like hit upon its release in 1972. For years, people would return to the theater annually to celebrate the surf culture and lifestyle it celebrated. They’d dance to the joyous music of Honk, and often, would even be treated to a new addition of the film. Five Summer Stories ultimately became stories within stories with the additional footage.

“Everyone loves having the various sequences,” said MacGillivray. “Some are funny, some serious, some were straight surfing and commenting about styles. For the first time, there was a lot of slow motion and people could really see the sport.” 

film festival Kalanis rainbow

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Photo by Kalani Cummins

When a 14-year-old surfer was overcome with emotion, after successfully riding a wave in Tahiti, photographer Kalani Cummins captured the moment, complete with a rainbow, courtesy of Mother Nature

Decades later, Cummins was finding his own way and discovered, at age 15, the power of photography – especially that magical moment when water and surfing was the subject matter.

“At first I’d just shoot surfers from land,” he said. But he wanted to get closer, so he secured a waterproof housing unit for his equipment.

“When I was shooting in the water the first time, it was definitely scary,” he said. “I never thought I’d be in the water when the waves are that big. But you get a perspective that 90 percent of people don’t get.”

film festival opening show at hobies

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Photo by Scott Brashier

The Coast Film Festival kicked off the 2022 event with an intimate – and sold-out showing of the film “Five Summer Stories” at Hobie Surf Shop. The crowd was introduced to the event’s lineup and then a discussion with people involved with the film before the showing began. 

Cummins spent his formative years being driven by his parents (he wasn’t old enough for a license) to The Wedge in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach or Salt Creek in Dana Point. He soon realized capturing surfing was a lifetime calling. 

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He has since traveled to Tahiti, Costa Rica and Mexico to photograph surfers. 

“If you can figure it out, you can do it full time,” he said of his photo career, which often depends on forces beyond his control. 

“Every morning I’m checking the waves – whether I’m physically or mentally there – it’s with me 24/7.”

Although he knew of the prestigious Follow the Light surf photo contest, he never felt his portfolio was strong enough to enter. But at age 24, he only had this year and next to enter, before he’d age out.

When he captured an image in Tahiti of an emotional 14-year-old surfer after he’d ridden the best wave of his life, and a rainbow also appeared, Cummins knew he had a winner. 

film festival kalani portrait

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Courtesy of Kalani Cummins

Dana Point resident and winner of the prestigious Follow The Light Award for surf photography, Kalani Cummins, age 24, has been photographing surfers since he was 15 years old 

 “It’s really hard to pick 15 photos to submit for the contest, but this one always comes back on top,” he said. “This was the aftermath, what happened behind the scenes when no one else was taking photos. This was all around, and it came straight from my camera. I capture what’s happening in that minute.”

As one of the five international finalists in the FTL contest, Cummins was just thrilled his family, including his fiancé and their 6-month-old son, could attend the award ceremony at the Festival of Arts center stage. When it was announced he was the winner, he was elated. 

film festival Jericho and Greg

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Courtesy of Kalani Cummins

Film director Greg MacGillivray poses with Jericho Poppler, a surfer who competed internationally, and was featured in the film “Five Summer Stories,” during opening night festivities at Hobie Surf Shop 

He’s hoping part of the $5,000 prize, plus new GoPro equipment, will help offset the next shoot, which he hopes will happen in Western Australia – while the waves are huge.

“Surf photography is what started everything (for me),” said Cummins. “I always try to be realistic and capture the raw emotions of surfing.” 

It’s the same sentiment about surfing that was captured vividly and beautifully in the Five Summer Stories film. And although MacGillivray has since traveled the world many times over filming for Imax and his own company, MacGillivray Freeman Films, it’s in his own backyard that the esteemed director often finds inspiration, watching the surfers lolling in the waves, waiting for just the just right swell.

“An artist or a photographer always wants to live somewhere where it’s beautiful,” said MacGillivray. “And the coves of Laguna are unmatched anywhere in the world in terms of beauty.” 

The films shown at the Coast Film & Music Festival are available for streaming through November 27, so for more information, click here. To learn more about director Greg MacGillivray and his film business, click here.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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