By Karen Billing
Carmel Valley filmmaker Pierce Kavanaugh received his first camera when he was 13 years old, a gift to his father that was re-purposed as his own.
“My brother and I just grabbed it and took it to the beach in the sand,” Kavanaugh said.
He lugged around the VHS equipment and made goofy little movies of his friends using whatever was playing on the radio as his soundtrack as he shot from the beach.
His equipment and expertise has grown since those first sandy days, but his love for the art of filmmaking remains about the same. He hopes to give young filmmakers an audience and the opportunity to share their passion with the first San Diego Surf Film Festival, to be held May 11-13.
Kavanaugh has found some international success with his surf film “Manufacturing Stoke,” released last year with his production company Misfit Pictures, comprised of his wife Petra and partner Geoffrey Smart
The film’s theme is one of sustainability — as the film’s website states, no other sport is as intrinsically linked to nature as surfing is and yet a majority of the materials used are environmentally toxic. Filmed up and down the California coast, it features interviews with “grassroots up and comers” who are “redefining what a surfer is supposed to ride,” looking at the progress of things such as wooden surfboards, recycled materials and organic clothing.
The movie has been around the world, to France, Germany and Australia, where it is up for Surf Film of the Year at the Byron Bay International Film Festival next month.
Kavanaugh and crew will head to Australia for three weeks for the 11-day festival, March 2-11. More than 900 films were submitted and theirs stood out.
“It’s not about awards though, it’s about getting the message out,” Kavanaugh said. “And it’s a unique message about sustainability in the surf industry. We just want people to see it.”
“Although it would be nice to win,” Petra admitted.
Kavanaugh grew up in La Jolla, spending much of his time on the beach as a water enthusiast and surfer. He got serious about filmmaking in college, getting a degree in film at UC Santa Barbara.
“Ever since then I’ve been trying to make it a full time career, but it’s tough,” Kavanaugh said.
Part of the struggle as a beginner is no one knows who you are. Lucky for Kavanaugh, he had a strong network of support in San Diego. He started his own production company, Misfit Pictures with Petra and Smart — “I’m the dreamer, she’s the connections and he (Geoffrey) is the nuts and bolts.”
Smart is not a surfer but finds it hard not to appreciate making a good surf film — you can’t beat the beautiful imagery, he said. They work with a skeleton crew, doing all the work themselves without any “glitz or red carpet” experiences while filming.
“It’s more intimate that way and it’s less intrusive for the talent,” Smart said.
The company had a big break of success with their film “Manufacturing Stoke,” which was released last year. That success really “snowballed” into the San Diego Surf Festival as Kavanaugh wanted to find a way to give back to other beginning filmmakers.
“We’re looking for independent filmmakers. We understand the struggle to get your films out there and get them seen,” Kavanaugh said.
“We’re looking for people who do it for the passion and love for it.”
The San Diego Surf Film Festival, founded with help from Leucadia resident Ed Lewis, will be held at Bird’s Surf Shed in the Mission Bay area. The Surf Shed is an amazing venue — the Quonset hut is decorated with over 400 surfboards collected by owner Eric “Bird” Huffman.
The festival is sponsored so far by Primo Beer and Enjoy handplanes, made from recycled foam, broken surfboards and old wetsuits.
The deadline for submissions is March 31 and there are no constraints on the entries. A screening panel will choose which films make the festival, but the filmmakers themselves will be the judges.
There will be amazing prizes for winners, from GoPro Cameras to a week stay at a surf resort. And there will be plenty of swag to go around — anyone who attends will leave with some kind of prize, be it a T-shirt or bars of surf wax.
The Misfit Pictures trio are currently putting the finishing touches on their next film, a short on local bodysurfer/whomper Angela Kristine Oschmann, whom they met body surfing in La Jolla. Called “What the Sea Gives Me,” the film will premiere at the San Diego Surf Ladies Board Shorts festival on Feb. 25 — all films in the showcase are inspired by women.
To enter a film or learn more about the festival, visit sandiegosurffilmfestival.com. Download the movie “Manufacturing Stoke” at manufacturingstoke.com. The film is also available on surfnetwork.com, a local Solana Beach company.