The AV Interview: Douglas Burke
In the past, AndersonVision would fall over itself to cover as many interviews as possible. For the last couple of years, we had more interview requests than we can handle. I would do my best to discuss things with the creative talent, even if we couldn’t get something live on the site.
As such, I decided to take a far more critical look at the people we cover on the site. Today’s interviewed guest directed a cult indie film last year. While it made my Best of 2018 list, Surfer went ignored by the mainstream.
Douglas Burke’s roadshow approach to his cult classic Surfer: Teen Confronts Fear is to be admired.
My questions are numbered and basic text, while Burke’s responses are in bold.
The interview with director Douglas Burke
- Surfer: Teen Confronts Fear was one my favorite movies of 2018. How has the latest response to the film played out for you?
Burke: I am very happy that the film is being played in select independent theaters. One of the recent responses I have is from the screening at the Royal Theater in Toronto the exhibitor was Peter Kuplowsky. The report is that they had 124 enthusiastic cheering people watching the film and reprisal screenings are being planned. Recent responses are in the reviews. The review by Dierenger of Screenslate who saw the movie at the Spectacle theater in Brooklyn was encouraging. The Spectacle has expanded the screening schedule to go through the month of April.
- Many are trying to make Surfer into the next cult classic hit. What do you think it’s going to take for the film to become mainstream cult? I think it will just take some more time. Like a culture of yeast cells growing in a petri dish in a laboratory Cult films take time to grow. As more theaters play it and more people to see it the film will find its place in American culture.
- I love that Surfer is touring the country to find new audiences at various screening sites. What cities have responded the best to Surfer? The recent screening in Toronto was a good one. The exhibitor in Toronto was Peter Kuplowsky and it screened at the Royal Theater to an audience of well over a hundred. He stated, “The Surfer screening went rather well. Feedback was very positive and strong. There was a lot of applause and enthusiasm!”
It always had a good crowd the times it played at Anthology Theater in New York City Barny Oldfield was the exhibitor.
Central Cinema Knoxville Tennessee had several screenings in January with more reprisal screenings in March. The exhibitor there in Knoxville William Mahaffey said, “the screenings (of SURFER: Teen confronts Fear) in January had a great response from all of the crowds and we could hear applause coming from the auditorium in concessions during every screening. Lots of people hung around to talk about their favorite moments afterwards. It’s definitely a crowd pleaser!”
- Would you ever be interested in making a commentary for Surfer? I feel that the world needs one for the inevitable home video release. Yes, I would like to make a commentary for Surfer. There are so many interesting things about the many years of history of the making of the film. Right now, though I have to focus on getting Surfer into more independent theaters.
- What films inspired you to make Surfer?
I wanted to film my son surfing because I love and admire him. He had a strong will to become a good surfer. That inspired me to want to make a silent movie. His courage in big waves inspired me to turn the film into a feature length movie with s story and dialogue. Like everyone I have watched a lot of films. I think that Sage’s character is kind of like Rocky in that he must train for a big fight with a formidable opponent. That opponent for Sage in Surfer has two components: the big waves and his fear of the waves. So Rocky was an inspiring film.
- Can we expect a sequel? If not, then please make another film soon.
Thank you for that. You know it really is nice to hear you would like to see me make another film. I have other films partially done. I am working on finishing them. I have a plot for a Surfer sequel but not ready to film yet.
- What do you think of Neil Breen and Tommy Wiseau?
I applaud them as being artists of their own paintings. Their films are their paintings. You must be passionate and dedicated to finish such paintings in our modern economic environment and that deserves the nod of respect.
- Final serious question: Do you feel that mass media conglomerate control is squeezing out the market for indie feature films that try to be different? The mass media and the big-5 studios to me are a God send. As a producer because they create waves of people who go to movies. Some of those waves reflect off the big theater chains and send waves of people into indie arthouse theaters. Those reflected waves are the waves that Surfer can ride. You have to remember that big corporate entities are not enemies of art. They are filled of good creative and artistic people who are basically strapped to a bunch of rules. Everyone is scared of losing money on a project which could result in them losing their job. There are stockholders and boards of directors they must answer to. You really begin to have compassion for them if you shine the right light on them. So, I think when they see something like Surfer, they are reminded of something and I don’t think they see me as an enemy. I think they see “Art” which a long-lost friend of theirs.
A final word with the director of Surfer: Teen Confronts Fear
Do you feel like media saturation has almost trained film audiences to see off-kilter indie films as either campy fluff or dramatic misfires? Will this lack of cinematic understanding eventually cause audiences to close off to anything not pre-sold to them by the Big 5 Studios?
Yes your theory of media saturation is true, but it is true for any product in any industry. When people expect something in a product and get something different, they can become unhappy and have trouble psychologically handling the experience. Take restaurants for instance. When people order a hamburger, they are expecting a certain experience. If they get something different than what they were expecting there is a psychological adjustment period that occurs. Even if the new hamburger tastes better than the one they were expecting they can reject the new hamburger. They are engaging in prejudice. They have pre-judged the new hamburger to the point where they will deny their own physical sense of taste. They need to feel in control and categorizing things is a way they can reduce complexity in their minds. When they eat the new hamburger and it doesn’t fit into a category for which they already have a file in their mind, they are forced to create a new file and that takes work. They are forced to create a file like “other ground beef sandwich experiences”. The research on prejudice that supports this point of view can be found at https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/research-states-that-prejudice-comes-from-a-basic-human-need-and-way-of-thinking.html .
The same thing happens with movies. People see a movie that does not fit their mold and they must create a file in their mind for it called “Other kinds of movies” or “Cult Films” or “Art Films”.
Freud would say that people have a resistance to change. When they see a film that doesn’t fit into a category, they need to create a category for it as a defense mechanism. They are defending against the possibility that the film will expose a part of their subconscious or unconscious that they cannot control. Finally, if particular a film is out of the norm and brings a part of the viewer’s subconscious to the surface it is frightening to them because they fear the power of the Unconscious and their inability to control it.
An indie film that is innovative and gives the audience something that they don’t expect can be rejected by some for the above reasons. However, for every person who rejects it there are always countless others who will embrace it as a new exciting adventure to experience. So in a strange way the big 5 studios wet the appetite of the public for an indie art film because people eventually get over saturated with what is pre-sold to them and start to seek out other flavors in a cinematic experience.
The deeper answer to your question can turn into a very long essay. Films in general address love either by comedy or tragedy or satire or a combination thereof. We get one of our primary most obvious love maps in consciousness from our parents. The love we feel from them we then seek out in our love relationships as adults. So, in Surfer the part of the love map that is being addressed is the love between father and son. In religion and mythology this love is taken to be a symbol of the love between God and man.
Another love map that Freud talked about is narcissism which is the human mind falling in love with an idealized image of the self. This gives rise to movies about super heroes which are idealized images that the audience can fantasize as being themselves on the screen. Big budget special effects movies have characters that can do unbelievable things and the special effects make the visual images more believable. So, the hero can have super human powers which manifest visually on the screen. These kinds of films are fantasies and have a legitimate place in the study of human nature because they are addressing narcissism which is a real island in the ocean of the human psyche. So, the fantasy films with unbelievable things happening will always have a place in cinema. They always did. Even before computer generated special effects there were other movie effects to make the fantasies of writers seem plausible on the screen.
Indie feature films are not being squeezed out. They do not have special effects budgets to incorporate narcissistic study of love by way of a super hero with super powers so they must stick to the basic more realistic forms of love on the love map. When you are an artist and you need a character in your story that would warrant a special effect you cannot afford you can always just make the character a ghost with the super human quality of a poetic tongue like the Father ghost character in Surfer.
I think the public has a keen cinematic awareness and a hunger for indie art films. Hopefully more independent movie theaters will keep playing Surfer so more people can find it.
We need to support the independent cinemas and go to them as much as we can. They are a true vehicle for artistic freedom of expression. That freedom is what we all cherish. If more people go to art films the indie cinemas will play them more.
Is SURFER a work of art? Well when my son was afraid, I reached out into the Universe for what I should teach him to help him conquer his fear. What I was inspired to teach him over many years is taught in the story of the film. He received it and acted as a conduit through which the energy passed and delivered it into the world. It was his hands literally that brought the energy of the inspiration into reality. He is the actor in SURFER, and he is the one riding the big waves. He was both actor and stunt man. So, does that mean “SURFER” the film is a work of art? Who determines what is a work of art? Well my first love was physics, so I tried to find what Einstein believed about art. He said:
“Art is standing with one hand extended into
the universe and one hand extended into the world,
and letting ourselves be a conduit for passing energy”
I dare say all the elements in this quote are present in the activities of my son Sage and I as we created what has become the film SURFER a work of art. Everyone is an artist. When we see a work of art we are inspired because the artist inside us is awakened and reminded the many seeds of our many artistic works to come. I hope more people get to see it on a big screen and get inspired to finish their own drawings on whatever their canvas might be.
Wrapping Up Our Time Together
The AV Interview is a place where I reach out to creators that impress me. If you liked what you saw today, AndersonVision will bring together more interviews with the underground talent is working on the edge of what’s real and what matters.
Until next time.