While each surfer is surfing these waves for different reasons, the film «satori» discovers that there is a connection that they all feel and believe in. We had the chance to chat with the director Rick Wall.
This cinematic film documents a group of people who have dedicated their lives to the ocean and riding the huge waves on the shores of picturesque Cape Town, South Africa. Their passion is riding huge waves at two surf breaks situated in South peninsula, the infamous Dungeons below the sentinel mountain in Hout Bay and Sunset Reef 1km out to sea off the small seaside village of Kommetjie.
We had the chance to speak to Rick Wall, the director of «satori». Rick has been working in the film industry for over 15 years. In his early years he worked at Giant Films in Cape Town, South Africa. He is a big wave surfer himself and grew up in Kommetjie.
Rick, how did you get into big wave surfing?
I have been surfing since I was 9 years old. I grew up in a small seaside/surf town called Kommetjie in Cape Town. We have world class big waves all around us and it was just a natural progression really. I love the ocean when its big it has such power and beauty.
How does your wife and family deal with the fact, that you put yourself in danger regularly?
It does come up from time to time. But if you are prepared and focused on heading out into these waves you can trust your ability and also your experience of how to handle situations when the ocean gets big. It’s not something that you can just wake up and head out there without knowing that you have prepared for it. You need to give the ocean the respect it deserves to enjoy it.
How would you describe a big wave surfers personality? How do I become a big wave surfer, besides the physical condition? The interview partners in your film were all a bit crazy and special beings, to be honest, but in a good way!
The characters in the film are all larger than life guys. They love what they do and they do it because of the joy it gives them. I know them well and that’s why I was able to portray their true personalities on screen. They opened up to me and every interview felt like I was just having a conversation with a friend. Being humble and true to what they do out there is very important to them.
In your point of view: Is it trendy to surf big waves? In South Africa? The world in general?
Big wave surfing has exploded in the last few years all around the world. There is a lot of debate whether some of the surfing done is just for the cameras or if guys really want it and love it. That’s a big reason why I wanted to make «satori» and show the world a side of it that we don’t see all the time. The side away from cameras, sponsors and endorsements – just the real essence of riding big waves and appreciating the ocean.
Waves aren’t really predictable – so how do you plan a film like «satori»? Is there a storyboard and clear strategy or do you act more spontaneously?
We had a plan for «satori» that was in a script and storyboard format. Especially with the tone and direction of the interviews I did with each surfer. You only see a few of the surfers in the film. These are the guys that successfully drove the storyline for the film. But I interviewed over 35 guys and I have 70 hours of interviews with all the surfers. When it comes to scheduling something like this for the surf footage, we were ready to film from April to October. I was lucky enough to get a sponsor from Canon and a camera rental house in Cape Town called Photohire. So we were able to grab whatever gear we needed when the waves arrived at very short notice.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
My biggest challenge on this film was being true to the characters and having their approval of essentially their lives on screen. That was very important to me. Some of these characters are reserved guys who are not looking to be stars in a movie. But they put their trust in me and allowed me to film and interview them. I also had a first screening for all the characters and their families in Kommetjie before the film went to the festivals because I wanted their approval.
Is there an idea for a scene you had to let go («kill your darling») because it didn’t fit in the end or because you didn’t find the perfect angle/picture of what you had in mind?
So many!! I did the editing on this film and then worked closely with the editor friend of mine. My first cut was 1h 45min and I loved everything that was in there but sometimes you become to close to the subject matter and need to take a step back or have someone help you take that step back and help refine it into only the content that works together for the storytelling. It’s so easy to have multiple threads but if they don’t connect then a lot is left unsaid at the end.
Would you do something differently, if you had to start all over again with «satori»?
No… It was a fantastic experience and I loved every minute of it. We had a philosophy on the film that if it didn’t feel right then we won’t shoot it. It needed to be a authentic experience at all times.
Why did you go for the name «satori»?
Satori is a buddhist term that means instant awakening and sudden enlightenment. My last film I did was a cycling film and one of the riders that I interviewed said that when he is on the bike cycling he goes into full «satori» … elation … bliss. I showed that to my wife and she said that’s the title – because out there when you catch one of these waves and you ride it and are complete, it gives you a feeling that comes deep from inside and stays with you forever, pure elation.
Please explain again, why you chose a mix of black and white and colored pictures.
The film was always going to be in black and white because I feel that medium has immense emotion and lets you connect with the characters in a way that you haven’t before. I chose to have certain waves in the film in over saturated color, moments where that character was in full satori. The moment when the feeling has overcome you. It was something that was meant to resonate with the viewer but not be understood by everyone who watches it. It doesn’t change the narrative just heightens it for some, if you have had a that moment in your lives it will connect with you.
In your eyes: What makes your project special, what’s the difference to other surfing films?
It’s not the conventional surf film. I didn’t want it to be that at all. To be honest its quite a niche film in terms of the subject matter but that was important to me. It’s authentic and true and I love that about it.
A big project comes to an end… What’s your method, are you about to jump in a new filming project or are you planning holidays?
It is something that you start thinking about but I love to have a few ideas scripts that I am working on all the time. Satori was close to my heart because I surf out there and want it to be received well with audiences around the world. Which it has and that gives me a lot of motivation to start the next project.
All the best then, Rick, and thanks for chatting with us!