Interview: Mike Oblowitz on Heavy Water!

It's anti-bio film, says the director…

Last night, BeachGrit showed a little of the Michael Oblowitz-directed documentary Heavy Water, a Nathan Fletcher biopic with an emphasis on energetic waves.

It premieres at the San Sebastian Film Festival on September 25. #SAVAGECINEMA, if hashtags are your thing.

Anyway, Oblowitz is an interesting guy. This interview just happened.

BeachGrit: You’re a busy guy. Finishing up a documentary on Sunny Garcia, one about Korean ceramics, and you’ve just finished Heavy Water, about Nathan Fletcher. But, what I really want to know is, when am I gonna get to see Sea of Darkness? I’ve been waiting forever. So many rumors flying around about the thing, what’s the deal? 

Oblowitz: Martin Daly and I have made a deal with New York/London based distributor, Goldcrest. Goldcrest were responsible for some classics over the years such as Chariots Of Fire, The Killing Fields and more recently the Academy Award documentary, Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo. It was the latter film’s distribution success which convinced me that they were the right fit for our film.

BeachGrit: What I know about film making begins and ends with a single high school class. Why’s a distributor necessary? Why not just put it on itunes or something?

Oblowitz: How one distributes a film is the personal preference of the filmmakers and financiers. For the former its how the film will be perceived for the latter it’s how the money the film cost will be recouped. In my case, I’m old school. An OG filmmaker if you will. I make my films to be viewed on a big screen in 5.1 Surround Sound in a movie house. That’s the most desirable viewing platform for me. Secondarily I try to make films that are interesting to a broad audience. In this case not only the small international cadre of surf film fans (who I love and are my base audience) but I’m aiming for a larger audience who can immerse themselves in the experience of this film. Thus I need to create an audience through a large distribution network with a team that know how to manage this kind of thing.

BeachGrit: Your newest work, Heavy Water, about Nathan Fletcher, is coming out really soon. When I lived on Oahu he was like this ghost that’d pop up in random places. Like checking the surf at Alligators on a totally flat Summer day, or I’d see him out surfing alone at Log Cabins in the windiest, most horrifying, overhead close out slop. Always alone. The impression I always got was that he’s this kind of strange, super introverted, maybe a bit self destructive, guy. How close to reality is that? 

Oblowitz: Nathan is a cross between The Marlboro Man and The Bob Dylan of surfing! Always changing always smoking a cigarette!

BeachGrit: Except Dylan dug fame, while it seems like Fletcher tries to stay out of the spotlight. Or, at least, doesn’t actively pursue it.

Oblowitz: Dylan repeatedly says in his lyrics how he shunned the spotlight, fame found him. “…I can’t help it if I’m lucky” the song Idiot Wind…”It wasn’t my intention to sound the battle charge…” another line about the unintended consequences of finding oneself in the spotlight. Nathan is quite similar. A Dylan line that really reminds me of Nathan is: “I can’t help it if I’m lucky…”

And of course the classic: “..the only thing that I could do is keep on moving on, like a bird that flew…” in Tangled up in Blue. Which, when you see the film, is the theme of much of Nathan’s life… things happen…I don’t use any Dylan songs in this film, I did that in Sea of Darkness, but you get the point…the law of unintended consequences…

BeachGrit: I just have hard time believing that anyone who gets onstage and performs doesn’t crave attention. They may not enjoy what comes with it, but there’s that “look at me” aspect that’s pretty unavoidable. And I get it, I crave attention too. I just don’t have any talent that’ll win it for me. But I’m supposed to be asking about your new flick. Who’s in it, what’s it all about? Obviously Nathan Fletcher, but is it a full-on bio, or do you focus on one aspect/event/whatever?

Oblowitz: No it’s more of an anti-bio. It adopts a rambling intuitive posture, not unlike its subject, and things just happen to him, to people who came before him, people around him. It digresses and shuffles along as the everyday elevates itself to the sacred…

BeachGrit: How long have you been working on it? How did the idea to make it come about? 

Oblowitz: I met Nathan, briefly, a few years ago through his friend the great artist/filmmaker/surfer Julian Schnabel. It was not long after Nathan had surfed the historic Teahupoo wave.  A lot of heavy stuff happened around Nathan, material for cinema 

BeachGrit: What kind of heavy stuff?

Nathan is a man who pushes the limits of human endurance in a quiet understated fashion. At the level he performs at and with the extreme athletes he engages in his pursuits, things happen: Andy, Sion, Kirk Passmore. Things over which Nathan had no control, but happened around him. 

BeachGrit: Oh man, I’d forgotten he was there all those times. And he was nearby when Peter Davi died too. So gnarly, that would have a huge impact on someone. I know Heavy Water recently premiered at the San Sebastian Film Festival, is there any way the rest of us can see it?

Nathan has been in and around a lot of heavy water, hence the title. The film has its world premiere at San Sebastián on September 25th, inshallah. If the stars align it will have a long life. Sea Of Darkness, Heavy Water, they aren’t going away….

BeachGrit: Sorry, something I read online must have confused me. I guess the only thing I have left to ask: you directed This World Then the Fireworks, with Billy Zane and Gina Gershon, as well as The Traveler, with Val Kilmer. Of those three people, which one exuded the most raw sexual magnetism?

Gina Gershon, duh! Have you seen her nude scenes in This World Then The Fireworks?

(Watch here)

We were an official entrant in the Cannes Film Festival with that one- driving around Cannes in a limousine with Gina in some kind of transparent dress, stark naked underneath, paparazzi blasting flashes through the car window. As we walked up the red carpet, I had it all for a moment..

Kelly Slater Impossible Air

Movie: Kelly Slater’s Four Great Hail Marys

New York, Bells, Portugal and… Trestles! All on one inexpressibly exhilarating reel!

Isn’t it an odd turn of events that a middle-aged man who, until recently, would dress is in shapeless sacks, is the most exciting surfer of 2015. As he was the year before and the year before that.

Yeah, it’s inevitable, I suppose, that John John, or maybe Jack Robinson, will steal our attention, but, for now, it’s Kelly Slater, who’ll turn 44, in February.

I mean, thirty seconds to go, needing a ten, who else can smile faintly, kick start their bike and jump the Caesar Park fountain like Kelly? Always jerky, but always with a tenuous strength, and with landings on cushions.

So how about we celebrate his vigour just a little?

Here are his four greatest Hail Marys, New York, Bells, Portugal and Trestles, all wrapped up in one little pile, complete with the best song from the expansive oeuvre of Brigitte Bardot.

Kelly Slater’s 4 best Hail Marys from BeachGrit on Vimeo.

Kelly Slater jiu jitsu
The photo on Instagram that lit Joel Tudor's fuse.

Blood Feud: Kelly Slater vs Joel Tudor!

It's blue (or maybe black, who knows!) belts at ten paces!

One day ago, the self-described “jiujitsu nerd” Vince “Bear” Quitugua posted a photograph of Kelly Slater and pal on his Instagram account (@bearsyr). The caption read: “Kelly Slater and Zach in a session with Mendes Bros , Shaun and PM. The world is a better place with Jiu-Jitsu.”

The longboarder-turned-jiujitsu-black-belt Joel Tudor (@joeljitsu) was enraged by the photo. “Crock of shit – the guy has been wearing a blue belt for years in pics and always made excuses when I would call him on it!” he wrote in the comments pane. “If he wants his belt , tell him to go sign up and put in the work like everybody else who starts at white and goes through hell to graduate to blue – anybody on here talking shit to me more than likely doesn’t train and has zero clue about Jiu Jitsu.

Pat Tenore (@pmtenore), founder, along with Conan Hayes of RVCA, hit back: “love this || joel is officially the commissioner of the jiu jitsu police cry baby club || listen grumpy smurf when you call out kelly like this you are basically calling out the mendes brothers and their integrity on who can wear a blue belt or not in their academy || as far as I can see it wasn’t a rainbow belt and blue belts do exist at AoJ and kelly is deemed worthy to represent || go do yoga calm down || love you joel || we all do but chill || don’t be a hater ||”


Joel Tudor
Joel Tudor, hello to you!, is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and has won “numerous Brazilian jiu-jitsu titles such as the Pan Ams and US Nationals.” Kelly Slater, however, makes him furious! Image by Lewis Samuels/PostSurf

The other man in the photo, @zachnminskey replied: “Why are you even jumping in to this conversation? It’s completely irrelevant to you in every way, shape and form. You are missing message of Jiu Jitsu which should be to try and build the sport worldwide. Bear posted this photo to celebrate the cross over of different communities, not to judge one person by the stripe on their waist. It’s not like it’s a fake black belt like we’ve seen recently. I’m pretty sure, being that I’m the other person in the photo, that Kelly wants to simply understand the sport and has been training for long enough to do so. I trained with him first hand and I can say, he is most definitely a blue belt, formal promotion or not.”

There’s a ton of back and frothing that’s worth a scroll for laughs. And the feud continued on other accounts.

Over at @PMTenore and from pmtenore: “this is what jiu jitsu is all about || not belts || what did mr miyagi say “belt is to hold pants up” he got his at Sears || don’t be a cobra kai’r and hater || all good”

From haydengerson “Kelly stop being a poser. Earn your belt and wear it with pride. You shouldn’t be proud of wearing a belt that you have not earned.”

And Kelly?

“I didn’t have a belt and that’s all they had handy. Chill out.”

Just in: Nathan Fletcher Biopic Heavy Water!

It's sexy as hell, and maybe just a little melodramatic… 

Michael Oblowitiz is a director I met several years ago at a surf film festival in San Sebastian. He is a man of the most theatrical looks (brooding pouts, dinner plate sunglasses) and Hollywood tastes (we danced all night!) and he once made a movie in Bulgaria, I think it was, with a very over-the-hill Val Kilmer.

Olowitz won that year’s festival with the never-released, but maybe soon, or never, Sea of Darkness, a documentary on drug trafficking within surfing that contained some references to Quiksilver.

Sea of Darkness was the best thing I’d ever seen about surfing, even if it had this weird spin at the end about Quiksilver’s global circumference on the Indies Trader called The Crossing. I figured the little PR hit at the end was to repair the damage to the (then) clothing giant from some of the earlier scenes.

I always wanted to watch Sea of Darkness again (I saw it twice during the festival) and, as fate’s hand would play it, a download of it fell into my computer last year. It was every bit as good as I remembered, although the end felt even more incongruous.

After Sea of Darkness, Oblowitz chased Sunny Garcia hither and yon for a documentary. That, too, as far as I know, has never hit a screen.

Did anything he make ever hit a screen for public viewing?

Now, yes!

Heavy Water, a film about Nathan Fletcher, once the cutest little blond boy in the whole world now a taciturn 40-something, and his predilection for big waves, is premiering in San Sebastian on September 25 (#savagecinema), with general release shortly after. Lets examine the press release:

“From his first sorties at big Waimea at 11 years of age, Nathan Fletcher showed a prodigious aptitude to big wave surfing. He grew into a professional surfer following in his father and grandfather footsetps, trying to conquer the giant surf of the Hawaiin Outer reefs. In Sion Milosky, Nathan found an equally driven peer. Together they reignited the “big gun” style of paddle in surfing. Our story follows our modern day Big Wave adventures as they live out the drama in an
arena that encounters life and death.”

Mix Michael Oblowitz and big waves and you do get melodrama.

Willing to pay the ultimate price.

A brotherhood.

Gnarliest big-wave charger anyone had ever seen.

But who doesn’t love a little blood in their phallus?

Watch the trailer here!

(Please forgive an early posting of this piece with Sion Milosky’s name misspelled.)

Exciting: Surf a Tsunami!

It comes to California in a few hours (I think. I'm in Rome.)

A massive 8.3 earthquake rattled the Chilean coast last night, forcing Santiago’s skyscrapers to dance and sending over a million people out of their homes. Thankfully the death toll has been relatively low and a tsunami is on the way to Hawaii and Orange County, California. The first waves are supposed to arrive at 4:46 am west coast time. Dawn patrol!

The Huntington Beach Police Dept. issued a tsunami advisory saying:

• The impact of this tsunami will be stronger than normal currents and possible higher than normal tidal surges along the beaches.  Stay out of the water.

• There will be a strong outgoing tidal current at the same time the tsunami arrives.  The combined effect could produce very strong currents in harbors and bays.

• A Tsunami event is a series of waves that can last for several hours.  The first wave is usually not the strongest.

Local Coastal Officials are monitoring the situation and directing all persons to be advised:

• Beaches, harbor and marina will be closed starting at 4 AM.
• Local officials will determine when areas are safe to open.
• Contact your local jurisdiction for more specific information.

Of course it’s a horrible idea but would you like to surf a tsunami? Would it be fun or a let down? Like visiting the Sphinx in Egypt? (It is real small, fyi.)