J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tribeca '10: Keep Surfing

Nestled in the heart of Munich you will find the oddest sub-sub-culture of the surf sub-culture. There urban surfers find their waves on the Eisbach (“Ice-Brook”) River rather than trekking to traditional ocean surf Meccas. Evidently, the German city is indeed the surfing capitol of the world for river rats, according to Björn Richie Lob’s documentary Keep Surfing (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

For years, a group of dedicated German and expatriate surfers have dazzled surprised onlookers by riding the waves of Munich’s rivers, especially when the spirit moves them to surf naked. When they do travel, it is not to pedestrian oceans, but to even more demanding rivers.

That is essentially the gist of Keep. We are repeatedly told in rather uninformative interview segments that rivers also have waves, which quickly gets repetitive. Fortunately, the film also profusely illustrates the point with some remarkably vivid video footage originally shot by Lob and co-cinematographer Lars Liebold, on a variety of formats. The visual clarity of these scenes is truly quite stunning. Every move the surfers make are clearly distinct, yet the sequences have an up-close immediacy that is thoroughly impressive. From a technical standpoint, Lob dramatically ups the ante for surfing films, far surpassing the cult classics of Bruce Brown (whose early films are still worth checking out for the Bud Shank jazz soundtracks).

Unfortunately, there is not much more to Keep than its admittedly striking river surfing scenes. We never really get much of a sense of the Eisbach surfers and there is no story arc to speak of. It is what it is: river surfing occasionally interrupted by rather forgettable talking head sequences.

If nothing else, Keep certainly has a lack of pretense. Those who are passionate about the sport will probably be enthralled by Lob's film. However, audiences hoping for greater context and insight might be somewhat disappointed by Keep. It screens during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival on Monday (4/26), Wednesday (3/28), Friday (4/30), and Saturday (5/1).

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