Mountains, Waves And Movies

How the Coast Film and Music Festival brings the best of mountain and ocean filmmaking to one amazing weekend in Laguna Beach.

The relationship between the mountains and the waves runs deep. From surfers to climbers, skiers, and every adrenaline-inspired pursuit in between, the folks that pursue the highest heights or the ultimate ride are all cut from a similar cloth. Driven by a love for the outdoors, nature, and the freedom of it all, whether it's paddling for the horizon or climbing to the heavens, the thrill remains the same.

It's this thrill, this pursuit, this driving force that inspired Enich Harris and Ben Warner to launch the Coast Film and Music Festival in Laguna Beach in 2019.  

"We saw that nothing like this really existed," Harris explains. "There are a lot of film festivals, and there are a lot of different events for mountain people, or surfers, or what have you. We wanted to bring them all together and cross-pollinate the cultures. There are so many similarities, and so many surfers also love the mountains and vice versa, so why not do something that celebrates all of it in one place together?

"I saw an opportunity to create an event in Laguna Beach that spoke to the next generation while reflecting some of the DNA of Laguna–art, and nature," Warner adds. "A prior history of working with media, brands, filmmakers, and professional athletes in action and adventure sports gave awareness of the need to put a spotlight on films, creators, and athletes that are so important to driving the sports and culture. A partnership with Enich created a deeper network and creative ideas and execution. We have fun working together and have big ideas for the future."

While Harris and Warner have both lived in Laguna Beach for years, and their paths had crossed here and there, up until their mutual friends at Teton Gravity Research (TGR) in Wyoming suggested they do something together, they largely existed in two different worlds.

Harris grew up a hardcore, dedicated surfer. Carrying that passion into his professional life, with the surf industry absolutely booming, he was an integral member of the team at surfwear giant Billabong in early August. Leading the marketing department, he reckons he had a hand in producing more than 20 surf films featuring the brand's top surfers–including world champions Andy Irons, Joel Parkinson, and Mark Occhilupoo. 

In November 2010, three-time world champ Irons was found dead in an airport hotel room in Dallas, Texas. Devastated by the tragic loss of one of his best friends, Harris transformed his grief into a celebration of Irons' life and accomplishments, producing the documentary "Kissed By God." Released via TGR in 2018, the film cut straight to the heart of who Irons was, what made him tick, and why he was so feared by competitors as well as loved by friends.

Meanwhile, Warner took the high road–quite literally. At the helm of Powder and Bike magazines, while Harris was at Billabong, he played a huge role in growing the culture of mountain sports and sharing some of its most inspiring stories. A savvy media professional, as the days of print magazines faded, Warner would go on to launch more regionally-focused publications, including Laguna Beach Magazine and the Laguna Beach Independent newspaper.

"With my surf experience and Ben's mountain relationships and media talents, the TGR guys insisted that we get together and talk," Harris says. "We'd never really worked together before, but those guys saw something, and as we got into it, the concept of Coast came up."

"Laguna is the perfect place for the Coast Film and Music Festival," Ben adds. "With its colorful history as an art colony and history of conservation, vision and execution by visionaries backed by the community that ultimately protected the land and waters surrounding the city amongst one of the largest urban sprawls in the country. And to add, we are 60 miles away from the Hollywood film scene, which makes us hopeful that we will be able to connect some of these up-and-comer creators to the big business in Hollywood." 

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Upper Elevation Perspective

It's too long and exhaustive to go into here, but the intermingled history of ocean and mountain pursuits is a colorful one. In one instance, if it hadn't been for a forward-thinking surfer, snowboarding may not exist. In the 1970s, surf icon Mike Doyle started spending winters in Idaho. After a few seasons, he came up with something he called the "monoski"–basically the precursor to the snowboard.

"The racers are the heroes in skiing," Doyle told Sport Illustrated in 1975. "The big thing has always been the fastest route down the hill. But I take the more aesthetic approach. I go up the wall of a snowbowl as high as my speed can take me. Then I swerve down and go up the other wall, like riding up and down a wave. With this ski, you look for the contours—the bumps and the lumps, maybe a big rock to jump over—and it's safe."

In more recent times, Academy Award-winning cinematographer Jimmy Chin joined big-wave legend Mark Healey and surf explorer extraordinaire Keith Malloy on a trip down to Nicaragua. The results were captured in a short film entitled "Sandbagging Jimmy Chin."

A self-proclaimed "dirtbag climbing bum/ski bum," after soaring to international acclaim when the film he co-directed, "Free Solo," took Best Documentary Feature honors at the 91st Academy Awards, Chin figured it was time to get his toes wet.

"For some reason, surfing always captured my imagination," Chin said in a recent interview. "John Rose [another Laguna-raised surfer that now runs the NGO Waves For Water] did an interview with me. He asked me as his last question if there was anything I still wanted to do in my life that I hadn't done. I told him I wanted to get barreled."

You can see in the film, Chin chased down his curiosity with mixed results, but whether climbing Half Dome or getting pounded by a set wave in Nicaragua, the stoke remains the same. 

And, of course, outdoor sportswear company Patagonia looms large as the example of what a mountain and ocean-minded, multi-billion dollar corporation can and should be. 

"You can't be a happy person without using your body," Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard told Surfer Magazine all the way back in 2012, just as the company was beginning its foray into wave-riding. "That's the reason you feel so good after surfing, even if you've had a shitty day."

Chouinard shaped his own board when he was only 16 years old, eventually trading it for a Model A Ford and roaming North America. He reckons "it was a fair trade."

The Mountains And Waves Converge

"We were lucky for this to be a passion project with little to lose in our second year and to have partners, including the Ranch and Yeti, who supported our vision," Warner says. 

"Since the beginning, we've believed that community is essential," Warner says. 

"Our vision for the festival is to become a community event that creators and change makers come to and want to be part of each year," he continues. “We are here to amplify important stories and support filmmakers and their work." 

Launched in 2019, the first year of the Coast Film and Music Festival was a resounding success. Exceeding the expectations of Harris and Warner and surprising the Laguna locals, immediately they were off and running. Plans were hatched about how they were going to make the following year's festival even bigger and better.

Then came the pandemic, and social gatherings ground to a halt. Seemingly every public event on the planet was canceled, and for a time, it seemed like the party at Coast was over before it even had time to get going.

“We are here to amplify important stories and support filmmakers and their work." - Ben Warner

By force of will and a love for what they were doing, Harris and Warner endeavored to bring the Coast Film and Music Festival back in 2020. And they did.

"To be honest, I'm still pretty baffled we pulled it off," laughs Harris. "We figured out how to host the whole thing on the golf course at The Ranch. We screened movies on the fairways, kept attendance low, and gave everyone lots of room to spread out. We may have been the only in-person film festival in the whole country that year."

Surviving the covid tsunami, the boys were back in 2021, screening some of the best films in the mountain and ocean genres, giving musicians a stage to play and artists a space to show their works. 

"What's blown my mind over the years is simply the power of film," Warner says. "To see how people come together to watch movies they don't really know much about and then leave the theater completely inspired and changed, even for a moment, is really powerful to see." 

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FLOW State

If one of the mantras of the early environmental movement was, "Think global, act local," the Coast Film and Music Festival fit the bill. One of the surprising outcomes of the event has been a relationship with the local Laguna Beach schools.

"The first year, we brought some guest speakers to the local elementary school to give some talks on the environment, sustainability, that kind of thing," Harris says. "Then the principal of Laguna Beach High School learned more about it, and that was it."

Harris is referring to a newly developed creative writing curriculum at Laguna Beach High known as FLOW. An acronym, it stands for "Fire, Land, Ocean, Water." 

The curriculum is broken up by grades. Freshmen take on the topic of "fire," Sophomores delve into "land," while Juniors get "ocean," and seniors address "water."

"We want students to possess a deep understanding and awareness of our unique natural environment and the value of mindful citizenship," reads the school's description of the program. "In order to achieve this, the FLOW program is designed to weave together our student body, diverse academic disciplines, and community partners in a communal effort to strengthen the stewardship of our natural environment."

A perfect example of how a thoughtful film about surfing or mountain climbing can inspire and drive change in a very real and meaningful way.

"We're talking to the next generation, the ones who will be taking all of these issues on, and to not only be able to inspire them with a film but have a hand in the educational process when they're young and finding their way in the world, it's an incredibly powerful instrument of positive change," Harris surmises. 

The 2022 Lineup

Four years in the making, Harris, and Warner have outdone themselves this year. The 2022 Coast Film Festival is set to be their best one yet, and not just because of the films that are screening. They've drilled deep into all facets of the mountain and ocean culture and have some truly special things on tap. 

The festival kicks off on Wednesday, November 9, with a 50th-anniversary celebration of the seminal surf film "Five Summer Stories." The film's creator, Greg MacGillivray, will be on hand with 1977 world champion Shaun Tomson to do a little talk story. There's more planned around "Five Summer Stories" later in the weekend, but we'll get to that in a hot minute. 

Thursday, November 10, is snow night. A couple of can't-miss happenings include the TGR Magic Hour, as well as the premiere of the new snowboard film Ark, featuring snow luminaries Danny Davis and Mark McMorries. 

It's back to the mountains on Friday, November 11, as the action shifts to mountain biking and climbing. The premiere of TGR's Esperanto, a mountain bike film with Todd Jones, Cam Zink, and friends, promises to be the main attraction.  

Saturday, November 12, takes us back to the beach. Three solid films are on the bill, including the "Yin & Yang of Gerry Lopez, a look at Australian big-wave slab hunting called "Facing Monsters" and "Gravity" by world champ surfer John John Florence, who will be on hand to talk some story and share a tale or two about his latest adventures on the high seas.

The festival culminates on Sunday, November 13, with another even more special screening of "Five Summer Stories." MacGillivray has been cooking up a special edition just for this occasion. The band Honk, who scored the original soundtrack, will be on hand to play live during the film, while MacGillivray will be providing some exclusive insights and stories into how the whole production came together.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Harris says. "It's really going to be special; you're not going to want to miss it."

There will also be live music, daytime movie screenings, an art space, and more. Be sure to check the schedule for all the goodness.

Making sure this is a family affair has been a big part of the planning, and all films are family-friendly, and kids under 12 get in for free. 

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Forever Laguna

On September 4, 1929, Dick Metz was born to Hungarian immigrants who'd settled in Laguna Beach and ran a small restaurant on the beach during the Great Depression.

"I used to play with Shirley Temple on the beach on weekends. She was the same age as I was, and her folks would stop at the restaurant," Metz remembers. "There were no freeways, and to go to San Diego, you had to go down Coast Highway.

"Movie stars would drive down Friday afternoon when they got off work at the different Hollywood lots–drive down to Laguna, have dinner, usually at my dad's restaurant…So we had a lot of movie people stopping at the restaurant—Bing Crosby and Victor Mature, Bette Davis, I can't remember all of them, but that's the way the economy kind of ran."

That same intermingling of film and Laguna beach is back in 2022 and bringing purpose-minded filmmakers and artists along for the ride. 

We are blown away by the quality and important stories of the films that we discover and are compelled to share them," Warner says. "Our opportunity has become, in a way, as curators, to find films with purpose, substance, and value."  

 

Get your tickets to the 2022 Coast Film & Music Festival to see what all the buzz is about. 

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