Eight musicians, sixteen surfers, three oceans—“Self-Discovery for Social Survival” is a collaborative surf and music film directed by Chris Gentile and produced by Brooklyn-based record label Mexican Summer. Gentile owns Pilgrim Surf + Supply with locations in Williamsburg and Tokyo. He’s also a visual artist, a former photo creative director for Condé Nast, a lover of alt wave craft, and a keen record collector.
“I’d never made a film before,” said Gentile. “It was an opportunity to let all these passions that I have touch. We thought of the three major oceans on the planet, and came up with Mexico, Iceland, and the Maldives, and then thought of which surfers and musicians would fit those places, and together as a crew. Everybody’s involvement was equally weighted, and everyone’s creativity was involved. The musicians had to go on these trips to get the inspiration to make the music, and the music was handed back to us to inform the edit of the surfing. So everything was interdependent. It was an exercise in letting go of control, and harnessing what you get into a whole, cohesive film. It was really open-ended.”
I got to experience this firsthand. Gentile asked me to the write the VO script. His instruction: Be impressionistic. Keep it loose. Have fun. I was also lucky enough to get invited along on the Maldives trip. Our crew was made up of mostly Aussies—Creed McTaggart, Ellis Ericson, Ari Browne, and Beau Foster. It turned into the sort of surf trip I might have had in my teens. We put in two or three surfs a day. We ate and drank voraciously, usually shirtless, often talking with our mouths full. There was the night that the water cameraman Jimmy “Jazz” James got naked and stood on the dinghy while the rest of the boys pelted him with bananas. And there was the night that Ericson grabbed the fire extinguisher and blasted everyone—including the captain.
I asked Gentile is he had any idea that things would go so feral.
“I knew those guys were going to be their own magical pod, but I didn’t realize how explosive it was going to be.” Gentile broke into laughter. “But I had a good feeling that we were all going to resonate well. Being on a boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean kind of calls for some wildness.”
I asked him about the music.
“When Keith Abrahamsson (A&R Director for Mexican Summer) and I started talking about the film, we had some criteria that narrowed it down. The big one was that the musicians had to surf. The Allah-Las, Connan Mockasin, Andrew Van Wyngarden of MGMT, and Peaking Lights—they’re all surfers.”
I asked him what the viewer should know about the film.
“We went on these trips, and they were two weeks long, so we got what we got. Which is kind of a commentary on what surfing really is. You don’t have control over the elements. It’s always changing, and you have to accept that. We didn’t get the best waves for this film, but the adventures were incredible. These are three trips, and we got what we got.”
Gentile and I have been good friends for over a decade. I am endlessly impressed with the specific facets of the surf world that he probes. At the Pilgrim shop he’s done events with Mark Cunningham, Derek Hynd, William Finnegan, Richard Kenvin, and Raymond Pettibon.
I wondered what he enjoyed most about the making of SDFSS.
“It was the journeys, the adventures. Actually being in these special places with these special people. Everyone was outside of their comfort zones, so we all had to rely on each other emotionally. It was exciting.”
For more check out: https://www.sdssfilm.com