Scott Marks 4:26 p.m., May 21
Meet Pierce Kavanagh, Co-Founder of This Weekend's Inaugural San Diego Surf Film Festival
Did you ever have one of those days where halfway through an interview and it suddenly dawns on you that you know your subject?
That's precisely what happened while speaking with Pierce Kavanagh, co-founder of this weekend's inaugural San Diego Surf Film Festival. As it turns out, the 43-year-old Carmel Valley resident and I did serious time together working for the Cinema Society of San Diego.
Pierce has been surfing for 30 years and the thought of putting together a local festival dedicated to surfing films came to him while on the festival circuit promoting his own surf doc, Manufacturing Stoke. Let's hope this is the first of many interviews I'll be conducting with Pierce in years to come.
The festival, which runs from May 11 - 13, kicks off with a VIP party tomorrow night where the City of San Diego will present SDSFF with a proclamation. The festival will showcase 12 features and 18 shorts all centered around surfing. Screenings will be held at Bird's Surf Shed located at 1091 West Morena Blvd. in Linda Vista.
Click for titles, times, and further information.
Why do you think it’s taken this long for San Diego to have its own Surf Film Festival?
They had one up in Oceanside called the California Surf Film Festival, but as far as San Diego proper, I’m not sure why there never was one. We’re doing it because we think our ocean-loving community deserves one.
Where did you get the idea?
We were in New York Surf Film Festival with our own documentary and it just didn’t seem fair that New York had one and San Diego did not.
New York doesn’t impress me as a surf capital. Are there a lot of surfers in New York?
There is a tight little community up there, surprisingly enough. New York and New England definitely have a surfing community. You have to be somewhat hardcore to be a surfer back there.
I’m from Chicago and don’t recall the surfing phenomenon hitting the Midwest.
There was actually a guy who got arrested last year for surfing the Great Lakes when the beaches were closed during certain parts of the year. In the surf world it was a pretty big deal. The world champ came to his aid.
So how do you go from a movie theatre seat in Manhattan to putting on a film festival in San Diego?
That was the tricky part. Because our film had played so many international film festivals -- and we toured it ourselves -- I talked to a couple of festival directors to see how they had done it. I had previously helped work for the Cinema Society of San Diego. I always had the interest in doing something like this.
Wait. You worked for the Cinema Society of San Diego?
Yes. My mom is the head volunteer for ushering.
I did some work for them, too. We must know each other. Who is your mom?
Mae. And my dad is Pierce.
Oh my goodness. I never put two and two together. You're Pierce and Mae's son?!
Yeah. I'm Pierce, Jr. My wife Petra and I were there helping out every week.
I know you're parents very well. They are two of the sweetest, warmest people on the planet. Please send them my love.
That is so great to hear. Thanks you so much!
Your folks would brag about you with such pride in their voices. Your dad has a great sense of humor. He is like 6-foot 5-inches. I can't imagine him on a surfboard.
No. He never took to it. He would swim around with us kids. When we were really young he dove under a wave and hit his head. He thought he had hurt himself pretty badly, and even though it didn't, it scared him out of the water for a long time.
I'm looking at the picture of you, Petra and Ed Lewis. I know you. You and Petra used to stand at the door of auditorium 5 at AMC La Jolla and scan the member's passes as they came through. I was the pissed-off guy with the baseball cap. I don't think your beard was as bushy back then nor do I remember a porkpie hat.
Of course. This is fantastic.
Before we break out into a chorus of It's a Small World, let's get back on track. How did you go about finding the films?
Facebook was a huge help. I put out feelers on several on-line surf forecasters and just tried to get it through the surfing community making general announcements that we were now taking submissions. I wasn't sure that anyone would hear about it let alone pay attention, so it was great when films started flooding in from around the world.
What is it about Bird's Surf Shed that makes it the logical venue for your festival?
Bird's Surf Shed is the only place we'd have it. If he didn't have the Shed I wouldn't be interested in showing these types of films in a normal movie theatre atmosphere. His shed is a Quonset hut that houses over 450 surfboards. For anyone who likes the history of surfing, just going into this place is amazing. Hairs stand up on the back of my neck every time I walk in there. I've known Eric 'Bird' Huffman since I was 10-years-old and he's a real pillar of the surfing community.
Talk to me about your voting procedure and how the awards are judged. I like where you're going with this.
We're putting a twist on the competition. A lot of festivals seem to be a popularity contest. I discovered that when we started taking our film around the festival circuit. We decided to put the voting back in the hands of the directors. I had a screening panel that went through all the films and selected the top 13. We are having the directors of each film view their peers' work and then come up with who they think should win the awards. We are basically giving the directors a chance to take back the awards process.
If the Academy make their selections based on this criteria I'd be a much happier man.
I have never heard of this happening and so far there's been an amazing response. Usually when you run a festival you want to be in charge of everything. That's not the case with us. We are very much interested in promoting the filmmakers. That's our main concern. It's all about the filmmakers, getting their films out there and giving them a platform so people can watch their work.