By Ellen Zoe Golden Photo by: Carla Rowlings
On the first night of the Tamarindo International Surf Film Festival, two full theaters of Multicies’ viewers were treated to the award-winning “Momentum Generation” movie. Also, on hand in person was one-half of the film’s director team Jeff Zimbalist, who along with his brother Michael, created a record of the emotionally impactful story of Kelly Slater, Ross Williams, Rob Machado, Shane Dorian, Kalani Robb, Taylor Knox, Pat O’Connell, Benji Weatherly and their Hawaii mentor Todd Chesser. This group of surfers, undoubtedly, changed the face of professional surfing in the 90s, and their impact continues to influence the new generation of athletes today.
Zimbalist, who led a question and answer session after the screening, was brought to Tamarindo by the film festival’s producer Jerry Hirsch. The hookup between the two came from the Florida Surf Film Festival, where Zimbalist presented his film, and also provided all the movies that were presented during the two evenings.
The evolution of the making of “Momentum Generation” began with the Academy Award shortlisted, Emmy and Peabody Award winning filmmakers best known for “Favela Rising,” “The Two Escobars, “Nossa Chape,” “Youngston Boys,” Pelé,” “Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told,” The Scribe of Urabá, and a couple of television series. “I surf, but I would call myself a surfer,” he admitted.
The group of surfers featured this movie came to celluloid prominence in the punk rock surf films of Taylor Steele, called the “Momentum” series. The Zimabalist brothers had another take on these guys’ story: They wanted to make a film that included the family histories, from the point of view of being fans, but not fanatics. The key were the universal themes, and Zimbalist recounted that the brothers’ being outsiders helped translate the surfers’ stories to audiences who are less familiar with them.
“We approached the guys about the film idea, and they thought it was fantastic,” Zimbalist said. “We told them we needed to go into the psychology of things, make it more universal and more than a surf film. 99% of surf films are highlight reels. We wanted to translate greater edgier real human drama.”
The story highlighted the fact that many of the surfers in the film came from broken families, prompting a bond as they became each other’s family. They became close, then were pitted against each other in the competitions of the World Championship Tour.
Some key reveals of “Momentum Generation” were the frat-house style antics that took place at Weatherly’s North Shore, Hawaii house, where the guys camped together each winter. When they were young, it took the badgering of Chesser to get them to overcome fear and head out in the huge waves. As a matter of fact, later on, when Chesser died in some of that same surf, his death devastated the group.
While many inter-rivalries developed—Williams and Dorian, for example—the most famous in the surf world was between Slater and Machado, which culminated at a final heat run for a World Championship and a famous high-five move initiated by Slater, that many still believe was a calculated maneuver to keep Machado from taking advantage of his priority in the heat.
To bring the film to even more audiences, Robert Redford, who founded the independent Sundance Film Festival, was approached to come aboard as a executive producer. “A name like Redford is not specific to the surf world, he has mainstream reach to a wider audience. His involvement was helpful to get financial support as well.”
“Momentum Generation” won audience awards at 17 film festivals, both surf and general audience events, including the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.