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Close Up: Mick Sowry, Director & Writer, Musica Surfica – New York Surf Film Festival Official Website
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Close Up: Mick Sowry, Director & Writer, Musica Surfica

Over 3 years since flying half way around the world (before knowing he had won) to receive the NYSFF inaugural year’s biggest honor, BEST FEATURE FILM of 2008 for MUSICA SURFICA, filmmaker Mick Sowry chatted with veteran NYSFF judge, Alexander Karinsky, on giving up everything for filmmaking, the how mega-awesome is surfing hype, and inspiring his kids.

Click here to view our International Surfing Day Free Online Screening of Musica Surfica to Benefit Surfrider

Alexander Karinsky: Well it’s great to connect with you again Mick, what’s been going on in your life recently & how much of your life has changed after Musica Surfica has won so many awards?

Mick Sowry: I’m poorer that’s for sure, but on the other hand the cultural enrichment since the first glimmer of the project has made up for it in so many ways. The awards thing has been great, surprise recognition for the oddness of the whole journey, but the great luxury was the quality of the people I worked with, with my role, in so many ways, being create and hold to a vision and make sure I did the whole thing justice.

How has my life changed? I’ve discovered I can do this, that I love telling a filmic story, and, late though it is, there is a new challenge ahead as I try to build this new chapter. The hard thing is to do it while dealing with two teenagers that are very much not your average bears, and the trials the GFC inflicted on us. Musica was a symphony of timing, both heavenly and diabolic.

AK: With Musica Surfica, the magic of King island, which few will ever know, the incredible finless surfing along with the pushing of boundaries with the music created an awe inspiring movie unseen before. Can you explain some of epiphanies you went through realizing this whole movie project?

MS: The main thing I think I got from it is not to be afraid. Any project you begin… there are always butterflies. Will I be able to do it? What will happen? Self doubt is the handmaiden of any creative project, but you cannot allow it to cripple you. Every time you pick up a pen or sit in front of a keyboard it sits in you shoulder whispering “you’re about to fuck up” in your ear, but that ear needs to become a little deaf, and instead keep trusting the creative instincts that put you in the position in the first place. The great thing about projects like this, things that are of themselves more artistic endeavors than commercial, is that the heart and not commercial imperatives means there is less corruption from the outside. This is sort of where staying true to the vision sits, unlike, say, in an ad agency, where the client ‘wants the logo bigger’ or “you’re not here to be an artist Mick, you’re here to sell product’.

In projects like Musica, the heart and soul of the project projects the heart and souls of Richard, Derek, the surfers, and me.

So the great epiphany to me is, probably, be true.

AK: In some ways Musica Surfica indulges in some pretty experimental concepts, was their anything before making this movie that inspired you to be a little more obtuse in your approach?

MS: That’s a funny one. When I first heard about it, and saw Derek’s boards on a hooker filled Melbourne street at 10 o’clock at night, well.. it couldn’t get much more obtuse than that. I fairly quickly had the feeling of the film settle in my head, not knowing at all what was about to happen. I had to go with it and find a way of making these two diverse forms of expression work together. The idea of surfing as a dance is not new, but the addition of such high level classical music is novel at least. Add to that that Richard is very high up on the world stage as a virtuoso of the violin, not to mention a razor sharp intellect, and Derek, his absolute equivalent on a surfboard.

By letting them dance together, in and out of the performances both in water and on stage, it made itself. The interviews were the great challenge as out of hours of talking we (and I say we as my producers, Simon and Richard, and my editor, Anne, sometimes found gems I’d missed) had to find the essence of the journey and tell it as clean and clearly as we could.

So in the end, the obtuse came with the territory, I worked at making it work.


AK: What is your take on the constant stream of surf documentaries with all the hype of how mega-awesome surfing is?

MS: Surfing is a wonderful thing, it’s been a huge part of my life and I hope will remain that way. The “mega-awesome” bit for me is less the act and more the environment. I love sitting out the back, taking it all in, seeing a massive wave thunder into the lineup, the water shaking, that shudder under water as a big lip cracks down. Love it to death. Equally, like last Saturday, sitting out at a tiny point break in Ventura County, by myself on a 9’6” I found in the garage of the house I was staying at, with a pod of dolphins cruising by followed by an inquisitive seal.. three of four waves and a paddle to get over the jet lag, that is just so cool.

But back to the question… my take is they are the same as any extreme sports video… young guys ripping it up, being gross or stupid when not being athletes and artists when engrossed in what they really do. More often than not completely artless in execution and missing so much of the absolute beauty of what these kids can do. Skating, bikes bladers, ski, base jump, it is all a magnificent celebration of the possible, but too often for me the point is being missed. But then, I am an old fart.

AK: Surfing has shaped so many peoples lives in so many different ways, what advice do you offer to your kid(s) & how much are you buggering with their brains?

MS: Both of my kids surf a bit, but neither, through location and opportunity, is a surfer per se. My youngest, Tom, is an athletic genius. Could be a phenomenal surfer, but took to skateboarding before having his board stolen, and getting into blading. He still does both but right now is in LA for eight weeks hanging with the world champ on an eight week shoot for a rolling film. He has a mind of his own like no one I’ve ever seen and I have no idea what is going to happen with him. Everything I have tried to say to him seems to have been ignored but at the same time there is a journey there that I will try to guide as hard as he tries to ignore me. I am still trying to get him into the water more as when he does jump on a skateboard it is a surfer there in front of me. He has it there, we just need to develop the water knowledge more.. and put on some bulk.

Joey, the big one, can surf ok given his 6’3’ and 200lbs, very powerful kid but more into his acting and art. His first movie (with a supporting lead role) is coming out in September I think. It’s a schlock thriller, good or bad I don’t know, but he said he was happy when he saw it the preview, and he is a good judge. He listens to Sue and I more, not a total rebel like Tom. He is also an astonishingly talented writer and artist… so who know what will happen. Head so far up in the clouds though… I thought I was a dreamer!

The main piece of advice I have offered though is follow your hearts and not the money, and now my chickens have come home to roost.

AK: I met Shaun Tomson for the first time recently, serious man-grom stoke going on for me. Without fail, I told him, he was the most direct influence on my life for me wanting to be the best tube rider, ever! Didn’t work out for me but I still pull in when I can sniff them out, who’s given you the most stoke to keep pushing your limits?

MS: Over the past four years or so.. Maurice Cole, without a doubt. We’ve known each other for forty years but a strong friendship has developed more recently. We are only two weeks apart in age, have a similar build and approach, though he is far better than me. He lifts me as I see him still searing across 8 ft bells on a sub six foot board and at 57 it is a wonderful thing to witness.

AK: So when it’s on, like 6′ Bells, what kind of quiver does Mick have in his car?

MS: Most often I am on a 6’2” of Maurice’s. Its only limitation is me. I will also take out a 6’6” hull I have that I love to ride for the glide, and if I really feel adventurous I have my 7’ Derek Hynd finless, that has me in it’s thrall. I’m getting a lot better on it, making many more waves, the speed effortless and the subjugation of ego needed to take it out a very freeing thing. You go out with no expectations beyond making waves and come back rewarded many times over. Everyone should try it. I need to get a good gun for over eight foot days though as when it gets over 6-8’ I miss too many and getting an easy ramp in would get my wave count right up. I also have an 8’10” Brewer for down south but that hasn’t had a run for a bit. Really only for medium big down there… 10 – 12 ft days. It’s be nice to have a really big board but I’d need to get down there more often to justify that… I have a few other boards, including a wood fish I’m building at the moment.

AK: Skyhooks had that masterful 70’s song “Ego is not a dirty word”. Do you think ego is a bigger issue in surfing today or yesteryear? I’m a little philosophically fuzzy about the “look at me” factor of surfing. What are your thoughts?

MS: I don’t think its such a bad thing in that everyone be likes to do a good move or three and it is doubly pleasurable if it is shared. It is after all a performance art. Where it gets wobbly is when the greatest performer is also the meanest of spirit. You will occasionally get the local hottie taking all the waves, but the greatest surfer is the great surfer who recognizes that there are other people in the water and treats them with grace and respect.

AK: Recently, since I’m fast approaching the half-century, I’ve been wondering of other things to try, such as flying & being a pilot. Have you had any similar delusions?

MS: If I had the time and courage I’d love to try proximity flying, you know base jumping with a wing suit and whizzing along close to the ground. It’s a stairway to disaster I know and most unlikely to be realized but it sure looks like a lot of fun. Otherwise my main desire would be to be able to paint more.

AK: You’ve done so much creatively in life, film making, shaping, surfing, writing, painting and parenting, yep!, I see that as an art; if you were forced into one method, what would stand high above the rest?

MS: Parenting aside, which is inescapable and a given, and surfing aside, as that is a given too, then film if I can, like, write and direct a feature, but that might be a long shot. Otherwise, writing and painting…. and I would like a shaping bay to muck about with.

Thing is if you are a creative person you are always coming up with stuff, mostly in your head, there is this inner life that burbles away, infuriatingly so as only a fraction of what you see ever sees the light of day.

Film Credits: Written & Directed by Mick Sowry, Musica Surfica Event Concept by Richard Tognetti and Derek Hynd, Produced by Simon Whitney
& Richard Keddie, Director of Photography Tony Brennan

Support the craft by purchasing your own copy of MUSICA SURFICA here.

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