Arts & Culture

Big waves, big movie at Surf Nite

Australian surf filmmakers Justin McMillan and Chris Nelius clearly like a challenge. Why else would they decide to shoot a 3-D movie about big-wave surfing off the coast of Australia?

“We pretty much picked the most difficult thing to shoot in 3-D — the ocean,” Nelius said in an email. “Every ‘mission’ we did was like climbing a mountain.”

The result was 2012’s “Storm Surfers 3D,” screening Thursday at the Fremont Theatre in San Luis Obispo as part of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. The Surf Nite in SLO event, which opens with Leslie Iwerk’s award-winning short documentary “The Ride,” will be followed by an after-party at SLO Brewing Co.

Wendy Eidson, the festival’s executive director, said “Storm Surfers 3D” is a perfect fit for action and sports fans, who are sure to get a kick out of the groundbreaking footage of hardy surfers braving enormous waves.

“The 3-D aspect is just exciting. I was excited to see it, and I don’t even surf,” said Eidson, who first saw “Storm Surfers 3D” at the Toronto Film Festival. “It’s definitely going to have the desired effect on the audience. It’s going to be memorable.”

Directed by McMillan and Nelius, “Storm Surfers 3D” follows two professional surfing legends, longtime friends Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones, as they tackle some of the toughest waves in the Southern Ocean. The film is narrated by Oscar nominee Toni Collette.

According to Nelius, the inspiration for “Storm Surfers 3D” came from an earlier film, “The Sixth Element: The Ross Clarke-Jones Story.” During the filming of the 2006 documentary, he, Clarke-Jones and McMillan became friends.

“(When) Ross told us about what he was doing these days, racing round the world chasing storms, Justin and I thought, ‘Well, that would be a great documentary,’ ” Nelius recalled.

He and his co-director made two Discovery Channel movies, 2008’s “Storm Surfers: Dangerous Banks” and 2009’s “Storm Surfers: New Zealand,” before deciding to pursue a 3-D documentary.

“Obviously, the pitch of ‘big wave surfing in 3-D’ is a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want to see that?” Nelius said. “It was intensely difficult to say the least. … But when I saw those first rushes on a 3-D TV, I was blown away. I thought, ‘We gotta get this done and on screens before someone else does it!’ ”

Since its Australian debut in August 2012, “Storm Surfers 3D” has been garnering accolades across the globe — including Best Feature Length Documentary at the Australian Academy of Cinema, Television, Arts awards, and Most Outstanding Achievement in a Documentary at the International 3D Society awards.

Nelius said part of the movie’s appeal is its stars — two middle-aged surfers who occasionally behave like “overgrown teenagers.”

“They are real-life heroes who don’t take themselves seriously, but have a lust for life that I’ve never come across in anyone else,” he said of Carroll and Clarke-Jones. “(This movie) is about two buddies who have been best mates for 25 years — two guys who are very different and yet complement each other. It’s a very human drama story.”


Surf Nite in SLO

6:30 p.m. Thursday

Fremont Theatre, 1025 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo

$17 to $22

546-3456 or