ENCORE SCREENING! Q&A with Douglas Burke after the film!
A uniquely profound examination of faith, or this decade’s The Room? A staggering and audacious journey through one man’s layered perspective of man’s relationship to nature – both internal and external – and the so-called fears we construct to limit us from achieving our full potential, or a ludicrous work of unhinged auteur cinema at its most baffling and laughable? Both? Neither? All of the above?
Since its one-week run in Los Angeles earlier this year – and the ensuing attention it received from L.A. comedians and cinephiles alike – caught the attention of Vice, writer/director/producer/composer/actor Douglas Burke’s Surfer: Teen Confronts Fear has been the topic of much discussion among indie film crowds and publications. Unlike genuine-intentions-gone-wrong epics like Showgirls, Birdemic, and The Room, Surfer seems to have broken strange new ground as a film that has some audiences rolling in the aisles, while others find themselves genuinely impacted by the surreal film’s narrative and inherent mystical and spiritual discourses (we’d say themes, but the messages here couldn’t possibly be more literally delivered).
Billed as the “Christian surfer movie,” the laughs certainly aren’t at the expense of the faithful or religious – give the film ten minutes, and you have everything you need to know about why this film is already being worshiped by the midnight movie crowd. A born surfer who spent his entire childhood riding waves, 13-year-old Sage (played by Burke’s real-life son Sage) suffers a traumatic near-death experience after wiping out on a huge wave. His whole life ahead of him, yet still paralyzed by fear, Sage spends his days fishing on the coast, unable to ignore the mystical and powerful pull of the ocean, but no longer surfs. When a mysterious stranger (played by Douglas Burke himself, alternately channeling a contemplative Easy Rider-era Peter Fonda and a thundering Hamlet-era Laurence Olivier), appears on the coast, Sage finds himself engaged in a heady dialogue about the true nature of fear – where it comes from, what it really is, and why it is crucial for man to conquer it if he is to discover his identity and thus follow his destiny.
If that doesn’t sound that weird, it’s because we’re intentionally leaving a lot out. The film isn’t without its baffling twists and surprises, including spontaneous outbursts, a bewildering biological breakdown of the stranger’s physical constitution, and a sudden and unexpected final act that finds Sage making more than a few shocking discoveries (and that finds Burke taking an already over-the-top performance to full-tilt eleven). Yet somehow, the film never loses its strange and singular charm. There’s a grace that permeates all of the narrative weirdness and structural chaos, because unlike Wiseau and his fellow oops-I-guess-I-made-a-B-movie legends, you never doubt for a second that Burke is heavily invested in every word he says, and that this film is as close to one man’s spiritual world-view as broken down word for word and idea by idea (unlike, say, artists like Terrence Malick and David Lynch who are more prone to do it visually) as is possible to find. It’s as if the film is an epic tome being passed down by father to son; something Sage can flip the pages on long after his father has gone, when in need of the sort of counsel, comfort, and perspective only a father can give.
And here’s the best news – you’re allowed to laugh, and you’re allowed to not laugh. Director Douglas Burke will be joining us in person for this screening, and he stated when we talked to him that he’s seen the film received every which way – from solemn audiences of teen boys who connected to the father-and-son story, to sold-out audiences of comedians and cult cinema goers who guffawed through the entire film – and he is simply satisfied to see the film being taken in by audiences at all, and isn’t hurt or offended that some have discovered their new favorite awkward cult classic in his work of art. He has completed his work, and he welcomes you to take it in, and take from it what you’re inspired to. If that’s not the very definition of an Artist, I don’t know what is.