I was able to attend the opening premier at Sundance last night. I'll post some photos and video clips shortly, however here is my instant review after sleeping five hours last night. Oh yeah, I got to take this picture with surfing great Greg Noll last night!!!— best Jason 917-587-6209.
Stacy Peralta's second feature, "Riding Giants", is a homage to surfing and a follow-up to his previous homage to skateboarding, "Dogtown and Z Boys."
Riding Giants is a film about the rich history of surfing large — really large — waves. Like 30, 40 and 50 foot waves. As a documentary on surfing Giants is great. It tells an untold story completely, has amazing archival footage and colorful personalities. However, after the many "whooooaaaas!!!" and "oooohhhhhhhs" from the audience at the premier last night have faded you realize this is a deep, undeniably religious film.
As we watch generation after generation of big wave surfers get more and more extreme we, the audience, vicariously experience the rush of looking down a 30 foot face. When a surfer explain these experiences their faces light up as if they have seen God and if God is best represented in nature it is hard to deny this experience.
Having this peak experience however comes with a price — death. Peralta hits the audience with this fact brutally and abruptly by chronicling the sudden deaths of some of the greatest big wave surfers. As quickly as the audience gets hit with an endorphin contact high they are brutally dragged back under the dark cold water.
It's a weighty moment when you realize that death is waiting for all of us a moment away from the greatest joys in life — like a mother dying giving birth. In fact, more than one surfer in the film talks about riding specific waves as being as memorable as the births of their children.
Stacy's first film Dogtown, which I saw at Sundance a couple of years back, is amazing, but it pails in comparison to Giants for three reasons. First, skateboarding has a short history when compared to surfing. Second, Peralta is part of the Dogtown story, and as such he doesn't feel as credible when telling the story.
Finally, and most importantly, no matter how rad skateboarding is, you can not compare it to the life and death experience associated with riding down the face of a six story wave in a few short seconds — knowing that that six stories of water will be crashing down either behind you or on top of you.
Giants isn't about surfing as much as it is about the deeper issue of confronting one's own mortality while searching for meaning and happiness in life.