Ross Whitaker: What I Learned Making ‘Between Land and Sea’

noah drop in(70x50)

 

Photo by Kevin Smith

 

Between Land and Sea, which chronicles a year in the life of the big wave surf community in Lahinch, Co. Clare, has been touring Ireland for the last two months. The surprise hit has been critically acclaimed as well as attracting sold out audiences around the country. As it prepares for its last few screenings (at the Mermaid, Bray on May 15th and IFI, Dublin on May 16th) in Ireland and for its international market bow at the Cannes Film Festival next week, Ross reflects on the experience of making a surf film from the perspective of a complete outsider. (Screening info via BetweenLandAndSea.com)

 

When I was approached to direct Between Land and Sea by the producers at Motive Films, I was excited but very scared. Excited because it was something completely new with a blank page to work from (after about six years working on my previous film!) and because I knew that I would be filming in a spectacular place. And scared because I knew nothing about surfing and because I knew I’d be working from a low budget in a genre where films are rarely less than spectacular. Indeed, hadn’t there already been a brilliant surf film made just a few years ago, Wave Riders? And the director of that film, Joel Conroy, was a surfer himself who knew the world inside out.  Still, I figured it was too great an opportunity to dismiss and decided I’d just have to learn how to make the film as I made the film.

 

Here are some of the things I learned making the film.

 

1. Know what you do and don’t know – one of the most daunting but ultimately helpful aspects of starting this documentary was realising that I had very much a blank page in front of me. I knew very little about surfing, so I tried to turn that into a positive in two ways. Firstly, by making sure I played to my strengths, chiefly to try to make my characters comfortable enough to be themselves on camera. And secondly, I kept an open mind to everything and everyone in Lahinch, who could educate me about surfing, and tried to use that information to portray the surfing world as they saw it.

 

2. Find someone who knows the world you’re in – as I started the film, the producers (Anne McLoughlin and Jamie D’Alton) said to me, “it would be great if you could find a local person who could work with you on the ground.” Thankfully, this happened and I was very lucky to meet Kevin Smith, a brilliant young filmmaker living in the area who was happy to collaborate on the film. I had to overcome my instinct to want to make the on-the-ground creative decisions myself and open myself up to the expertise, knowledge and connections of a locally based person. The rewards, in terms of what we were able to capture with a small but dedicated team, were massive.

 

3. Adapt your style to what’s in front of you – while Between Land and Sea maintains many elements of my previous films (I hope it has a sense of character intimacy and is interested in some of the same themes), I wanted it to also be specific to its environment. After a little time there, it struck me how different and special the light is in the west of Ireland and I wanted to get this across at all times, so I decided that everything should be naturally lit and that we would use no lights in the making of the film. I hope this gives the film a more natural light and reflects to some degree what it feels like to be there. Another thing that struck me in Clare was how it sounds very different to the east coast, so in the edit we tried to bring that to the film too. The pace of the film also tried to reflect the pace of life in the town. While a lot of surf films attempt to be high octane, the day-to-day life of coastal towns really isn’t like that, so that’s another thing we tried to reflect.

 

4. Explain what you plan to do and then do that – the people who I filmed in Lahinch were hugely generous with their time and energy and increasingly so as filming went on. I came to understand that people in surfing communities are well used to outsiders coming along and filming them but that they have also grown a little tired of this, particularly when people make promises that they don’t keep. So, from quite early on, I tried to be clear about my intentions and how I thought things would pan out. I think as people saw that I was serious about what I was trying to do, that a mutual respect developed and this was key to being able to capture people naturally.

 

5. Work with an editor who gets it – the editor of the film is Andrew Hearne and I really wanted him to cut the film, not just because he’s a wonderful editor but because he also grew up in a seaside surf town. Andrew grew up in Tramore, a great surf town in Waterford, so when he was cutting the film, he really understood the rhythms of life and the motivations of the characters. He contributed a huge amount to getting the feel of the film right because he had lived in a similar place.

 

6. Don’t underestimate the potential reach of the film – despite being a low-budget, obscure film and not in position to get distribution (with broadcasts coming soon and without Irish Film Board support, we were not an attractive proposition for distributors!), the film has surprised us in how it has managed to find an audience. I must remind myself in future that audiences do want to see honestly made films about other human beings and throw in some lovely landscapes and surfing and you might be amazed at what a film can achieve. Facebook has been key for us in getting the word out and a good trailer can spread the word fast about a film. Since my last film, Unbreakable, was distributed two years ago the media landscape has shifted and social media has become even more important. In addition, there are more media outlets than ever and if you cater to their needs, a film can get a lot of exposure even without a publicity budget. Finally, I’ve learned that a good local story can have international resonance and we’ve been delighted by the response of international sales agents who really seem to get the universal themes of the film.

 

The film will screen at the March du Film at Cannes Film Festival and we’ll soon find out just how far this little film might travel!

 

 
Mermaid Wicklow Arts Centre, Bray (with Q&A)

Monday, May 15th @ 20:00 (Buy Tickets)

Dublin: IFI Cinema (with Q&A)

May 16th @ 18:30 (Buy Tickets)

Ennis: glór

June 1st plus BBQ @ 18:30 (Buy Tickets)

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‘Between Land and Sea’ Announce More Screenings

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photo courtesy of Kevin Smith

 

Between Land and Sea, a year-long insight into the lives of those who love to live beside the ocean, will have additional screenings in the IFI Dublin, Naas, Kilkenny, Limerick, Sligo and Westport

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Ross Whitaker (When Ali Came to Ireland, Saviours, Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story), Between Land and Sea is a year in the life of an Irish surf town at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean.

This observational feature – at times intimate, at times epic – embeds itself in the Big Wave surf community to present a thoroughly engaging and visually stunning portrait of the ever-changing life at land’s end.

The decisions we make early in life can have consequences more far-reaching than we imagine when we make them. Young surfers dedicate their lives to the ocean, consumed by the excitement and beauty on offer but how can they balance that with the inevitabilities of later life – money to earn, mouths to feed?

Against the backdrop of Ireland’s stunning west coast, this film digs deep into the day to day lives of the surf community, taking the audience beyond the bluster of the typical adrenaline fueled film to create a very real portrait of those who choose the surf lifestyle.

Featuring some of the biggest waves and best surfers in Ireland – as well as a thrilling cameo by Hawaiian legend Shane Dorian –Between Land and Sea succeeds in being exhilarating while giving a moving, humourous and thought-provoking account of the ocean-going natives of West Clare.

Director Ross Whitaker says, “I’m delighted to be bringing Lahinch and its folk to screens around Ireland as I found it to be a surprisingly special place. I set out to make a different kind of surf film, one that went beyond the hype of some surf films to find the quiet truth of what it means to choose to be a surfer, how it impacts your entire life in myriad different ways. Living at the edge of the Atlantic in Ireland’s wild west is hard – rain is heavy, winds are strong and waves are monstrous. But for the right person it’s a cold paradise living along that incredible coastline.”

Ticket and venue info will be available from www.betweenlandandsea.com

 

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‘Between Land and Sea’ Gets Limited Cinema Release

 

Ollie Rileys

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Ross Whitaker (When Ali Came to Ireland, Saviours, Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story), Between Land and Sea is a year in the life of an Irish surf town at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean.

This observational feature – at times intimate, at times epic – embeds itself in the Big Wave surf community to present a thoroughly engaging and visually stunning portrait of the ever-changing life at land’s end.

Against the backdrop of Ireland’s stunning west coast, this film digs deep into the day to day lives of the surf community, taking the audience beyond the bluster of the typical adrenaline fueled film to create a very real portrait of those who choose the surf lifestyle.

Directed by Ross Whitaker and featuring some of the biggest waves and best surfers in Ireland – as well as a thrilling cameo by Hawaiian legend Shane Dorian –Between Land and Sea succeeds in being exhilarating while giving a moving, humourous and thought-provoking account of the ocean-going natives of West Clare.

Ross Whitaker said, “I’m delighted to be bringing Lahinch and its folk to screens around Ireland as I found it to be a surprisingly special place. I set out to make a different kind of surf film, one that went beyond the hype of some surf films to find the quiet truth of what it means to choose to be a surfer, how it impacts your entire life in myriad different ways. Living at the edge of the Atlantic in Ireland’s wild west is hard – rain is heavy, winds are strong and waves are monstrous. But for the right person it’s a cold paradise living along that incredible coastline.”

 

Ticket and venue info will be available from www.betweenlandandsea.com

 

VENUES –

IFI – from March 5th

Garter Lane, Waterford

The Model, Sligo

Eye Cinema, Galway

The Glor Theatre, Ennis

University of Limerick

The Gate Cinema, Cork

Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Theatre, Bray

University College Dublin

 

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Between Land and Sea

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Loretta Goff catches waves at Ross Whitaker’s documentary Between Land and Sea, which premiered at the Cork Film Festival.

 

Making its world premiere at the Cork Film Festival, Between Land and Sea follows a year of life in the surf town of Lahinch, Co. Clare. Previously known for golf, the advent of surfing in Lahinch from 2000 provided an economic boon for the town and has been embraced by the community. The documentary begins in January when most of the town has closed for the season and the beaches are quiet, giving locals time for their own surfing before the busy season, full of surfing lessons, kicks off. Easter weekend, and the repainting and reopening of local shops, marks the start of this season, and the influx of people and cars to the community contrasts greatly with the quiet (and sometimes financially difficult) winter months.

Offering a portrait of the community, and capturing its spirit, director Ross Whitaker (Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story, When Ali Came to Ireland) introduces us to local surfers Tom Doige-Harrison (and his wife Raquel Ruido Rodriguez), Ollie O’Flaherty, Fergal Smith, John McCarthy and Dexter McCullough, along with ocean-loving community member Pat Conway. Not only do we see these individuals’ athletics in the water (and their true love for it), we also get an intimate look at their lives, exploring the themes of aging as a surfer, financial ups and downs, family life and planning for a sustainable, long-term future.

Between Land and Sea equally creates a portrait of Clare’s Atlantic coast, capturing both its beauty and power. Shots of serene water reflecting orange-tinted sunsets and sleek, smooth waves are contrasted with stormy waters, huge waves breaking on cliffs and turbulent, frothy whitewater. Stunning local big-wave destinations Riley’s Wave and Aileen’s Wave, at the base of the scenic Cliffs of Moher, feature in the film. These waves attract surfers from all over the world, including surfing legend Shane Dorian who makes an appearance in the documentary, but are home to our surfers from Lahinch who show off their skills here. While Whitaker captures a great deal of the essence of Lahinch, its waters and its people from the land, Kevin Smith deserves special accolades for his visually impressive aerial and water camerawork which provides some remarkable shots. Capturing adventure, athleticism and everyday life, this film will appeal to surfers and non-surfers alike.

Following the sold-out screening, Ross Whitaker, Ollie O’Flaherty, John McCarthy, Dexter McCullough and Pat Conway were present for a Q&A. Whitaker explained that the film was made with a low budget and a small, but very dedicated, crew who put in the time to be there when things happened. Spending hours behind the camera filming surfing took intense concentration in order to ensure that the best waves of the day were captured. Meanwhile, O’Flaherty expressed a sense of pride in what they achieved and happiness that people will get to see the amazing place they live in, a thought mirrored by the rest of the panel. Throughout the film he, along with other surfers, expressed a desire to train up a new generation of Irish surfers to greatness, and this film should help to inspire that.

There are plans for Between Land and Sea to be released throughout Ireland next year as well as continue on the festival circuit.

 

Between Land and Sea screened on 19th November 2016

The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November

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