By Casey Butler
The first showing was at 8:00 p.m. but the doors of the Tribeca Cinema opened at 7, allowing entry into a curious microcosm. Stick thin models draped in über-cool camisas towered near the 7-foot mark in their fashionable heels. Perhaps aided by the free beverages courtesy of Absolut, Barefoot, and Pabst, the high heels mingled effortlessly with a crowd of flip-flops and skate sneakers, including those of Dan Malloy. Professional surfers joined hip New Yorkers and martini-sipping Europeans in downtown Manhattan for the world premiere of Taylor Steele’s new movie, Castles In The Sky.
Eschewing conventional surf movie-premiere wisdom, Steele and his executive producer Sandrine Lima of Reel Sessions decided to premiere Castles in the city that never sleeps with the help of VAS Entertainment and the New York Surf Film Festival. New York has never been a go-to locale for surf film premieres, but the NYSFF is helping to change that. Steele’s The Drifter made its U.S. debut at the NYSFF last September, and he says that he likes New York because it seems like people migrate there for the right reasons. “It feels organic,” he smiles.
The original pair of show times sold out almost immediately. A third, late-night screening was added, which also sold out. The house was packed, and the charged-up crowd perused colorful prints adorning the perimeter of the Cinema Lounge as they waited for the film to begin. The photos of indigenous peoples and fantastic panoramas the Castles crew encountered in their travels were part of a silent auction to benefit Waves of Health.
Castles In The Sky is about exploration. Steele said they used the Google Earth to scout out new locations, and during the last three years the crew shot in in Iceland, Vietnam, Africa, Peru, and India. Each section begins with the line, “There once was a man who became unstuck…” Each speaker finishes it in his own way.
The Prologue (behind the scenes) is an essential part of the film. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and shows what the crew had to endure to make Castles happen. At some point, key numbers start popping up on the screen. The ones that stand out are: 16 pro surfers, $8,000 plus in excess baggage fees, three car accidents, one film.
Castles is an interesting specimen of a surf film because its audience could be so diverse. Without subtitles spelling out who is doing what, and where, it leaves viewers to figure it out based on cultural clues. It felt like it was made for people who know the sport inside and out, and therefore don’t need to be told these things. On the other hand, the lack of inscribed clutter frees the viewer to focus on the beauty of the landscapes, people, and surfing. In other words, people who know nothing of the industry, and don’t care what the surfers’ names are, can still appreciate the film for is visual elegance.
The crew was one of the very first to use a RED camera to shoot a surf film, and though they had some issues traveling with the RED (it was detained in Morocco), they estimated that sixty-percent of the surfing segments were shot with it, and the results are completely captivating—Rob Machado carving up an insanely steep face in Peru, Rasta shredding in India, and the stunning locales practically daring you not to visit them. The shots of local color blend seamlessly with the push-the-limits surfing for which Steele’s movies are known.
During the Q&A session after the movie, Director of Photography Todd Heater said, “I think the people are what makes the film for me. We’re all the same, and we’re all beautiful, but look at how different we are.” The more you travel, he and Steele explained, the more your love of humanity grows.