Since 1987 filmmaker Tim Bonython has been documenting big wave surfing around Australia and the world. What initially started as a simple little hobby down at Bondi beach grew into a fledgling movie screening event in Adelaide and has now evolved into the annual Australian Surf Movie Festival, which is set to begin its 14th year on Tuesday, Nov 10.
As a young boy Bonython grew up by Tennyson beach in Adelaide and developed a strong bond with the ocean. “I lived for anything to do with the ocean,” he recalled. It wasn’t until his family moved to Sydney, after his father opened an art gallery in Paddington, that Tim also discovered his passion for filmmaking.
“I would catch a bus to Bondi, where surfing was this new sport that was taking off and I fell in love with it,” explained Tim. “Around the same time I got a movie camera from a friend of the family and started shooting super-8 down at Bondi beach. So it was really a combination of filmmaking, photography and the sport of surfing.”
From there Tim honed his skills making films for his friends until he was able to convince a local surf shop in Adelaide to allow him to chase events around the country and capture footage. Tim would then edit this footage together in a film and hold small screenings at the Victoria Hotel in Adelaide where they would charge $3-$4 entry, and thus the seed of the idea that this could be a career was planted. Even today at 61 years of age Tim says he “can’t get enough of it” and is trying to “stay as fit as possible so that I can try to fit in another 20 years of doing the best job in the world.”
Right from the outset Tim approached his filmmaking with a unique perspective. Rather than making the typical surf film he has instead approached his films with a style more closely aligned to a nature documentary.
“For me the ocean is the star, the surfers are just there to enhance it,” Tim told City Hub. “When the ocean unloads I’ll film a wave simply because it looks amazing, but if there is a surfer riding that and looks like a speck that’s 1/10th of the size of the wave then that shows off the size and intensity of the wave.”
It is for this reason that Tim believes his films are geared more towards the general audience and are best suited to viewing on the big screen.
“We’re always looking at these videos on a tv, computer monitor or even our phone these days, which doesn’t really resonate like it would on the big screen. Making a surf movie with great footage and music and then putting it on the big screen is paramount. To watch an 80-90ft wave on a mobile phone screen looks amazing but at the end of the day you don’t feel the energy of it all, but if you see that on a big screen you feel the energy.”
For Tim the main aim of the Australian Surf Movie Festival is to have the audience leaving the cinema in “aww of what they’ve just witnessed.”
Often times the moments which generate this biggest sensation of aww are the rare big wave wipeouts.
“Obviously people want to see surfers take on these monsters and ride them to safety but the one thing that resonates even more so with the general public are the wipeouts,” explained Tim. “The wipeout is just as entertaining, or even more so for the general public because they cringe and ask ‘how did they live though that?!’
“There aren’t a lot of wipeouts in monster waves though, because you can only really deal with one crazy wipeout where you’re lucky to come up still breathing.”
Even as the filmmaker documenting these big wave sessions Tim says he goes through a lot of the same emotions as the surfers themselves.
“As a filmmaker I always want to get the best angle, which means you better get in the water. And while that is incredibly rewarding it also comes with the potential for the worst case scenario and thus a lot of anxiety before shooting.
“I’m kind of getting to the point now where maybe I don’t want to get out there amongst it much more. At 60 I feel like maybe I’m not fit enough to deal with the consequences when the shit hits the fan.”
Aus Surf Movie Fest takes place Nov 10-11 & 25 at the Hayden Orpheum & The Randwick Ritz. $22-$29.70+b.f. Tickets & Info: event.asmf.net.au