The surf film genre is experiencing a resurgence that defies the current digital branded content and harks back to the days when bolthole beach joints used to play refound 70s home movies on ancient TV screens behind the bar. We all have a stack of VHS and DVDs from analogue days, when the only way to get into the scene was to buy and swap copies of famous compilations of grainy Super 8 overlaid with psych rock. This is a nostalgia mixed with a longing to be in those moments. The new wave of surf movies gives us all that opportunity to be part of another ‘happening’.

A couple of Australians are leading the pack on the global film circuit, with a return to this cinematic style. Probably the most out-there being the Illawarra’s own James Kates, with his cohort of the coolest people in music as creative sidekicks to his vision. A musician himself, with a repertoire of past music and surf videos, plus a penchant for guerrilla projections on remarkable Illawarra landmarks, makes James a multi-faceted surf movie maverick of note.

James Kates_MASH surf film

All of James Kates films that we have seen to date, capture an alternative to mainstream surf culture. The focus more on the creative philosophies of surfing rather than another rehash of board performance. However, the talents captured are always pretty spectacular as the surfers put their skills and kit through extraordinary settings.

A co-creation between Noa Deane and James, the new film MASH, comes in on a new angle and features one the best characters of the surf scene in never-seen-before liquid scenarios. The film embodies the joyous board-snapping experiences in the pursuit of conquering the imperfect wave. It is an refreshingly intimate insight through the eyes of the protagonist and his family and friends on 'being there'. 

The previous film, Aural Canyons, is more of a 'happening' that will continue to evolve as it travels around the globe. Each projection of that film features a different set of musicians reacting, and acting in, a live soundtracked event. Every event is totally random.

MASH is pre-soundtracked with perfect contributions by the great and the good of the Illawarra music scene from proto-punk to nu-jazz. The soundtrack should be an album in itself. Featuring Blister, Cheap Gloomer, Tex Crick, Frejya Garbett and The Economy are just some of the names involved and many of these have featured in Grand Pacific's monthly mixtape archive(shameless plug). The sheer scale of the original contributions from all walks of James’ creative landscape makes this film deeply resonate with this stretch of coastline. And is completely charming and romantic as it is unmissable.

MASH is also a more intensively filmed experience. Where as Aural Canyons was sporadically filmed in pieces over a number of years, more of a collage of happenings, MASH is a culmination of the past twelve months but with more intent. Therefore this film offers a different vibe, not a continuation of Canyons,  and we can expect something fundamentally different from this exciting premiere.

Spending the morning speaking to James before the Moruya premiere of the film, and ahead of the Ulladulla and Port Kembla premieres, it is apparent this polymath avoids being boxed in with pre-ordained ideas of what a film, a soundtrack or an event should be. He is more interested in the experience of the creative process and project and the unique viewer experience rather than commercial approval. This makes James’ film, as with his other works, hugely involving and memorable for the audience. He just wants you to 'be there' in the moment with him as he shows you the film in a surrounding it was made for. This is also why his events sell out so quickly with waiting lists for tickets weeks before the show.

If you do miss out on the last of the tickets at these South Coast events, there are plans for the film to become available on pay per view later in the year.

It has been an epic year for James in terms of film but this is not the only creative exploit in his spotlight. There are fresh musical roots forming with a new singles from Shining Bird and Cheap Gloomer, a new record label planned for similar waifs and strays, who also refused to be piegon-holed.  The guy is on a serious roll, along with all his creative allies, which seems to be a significant trend within the Illawarra.

If we don’t see you all at the now sold out premiere of MASH at The Servo on Sunday 12th November, we may see you at another happening from this re-emerging surf genre.

Motel Hell_surf film

There is a premiere of surf movie, Motel Hell, at Anita’s Theatre, Thirroul on Friday 17th November by directors Dave Fox and Harry Bryant . The film trailer was shot by James Kates and features a soundtrack recorded by the folks at Stranded Recording Studios in Bellambi with the amazing The M1 band, and a film poster by the creative behind many Illawarra events, Luke Player . The Illawarran creative collective are in full flight. This event is free, so be there at 7pm when doors open for a first-come, first-served domination of the seating arrangements.

As always, the Illawarra is a place for people who can appreciate its true value of discovery; insatiable creatives and pioneering explorers who want to be part of something radical and something that satisfies all senses. Where curiosity is rewarded. The trophy is just being here.

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*Images by kind permissions.