Having lived and surfed on the east coast, I still hold a torch that glows for the place. So when I watched Ollie Banks’s ‘Nine Hundred Miles’, it was a slide down memory lanes, as certain folk and standout spots came flooding back.
You find theses gems every now and again, and my, my, my, did this one sparkle. It really captures the spirit of adventure – it’s a film for those of us who put on wet neoprene at five in the morning and circle coastlines for intravenous doses of nirvana, on whatever shape/length vessel you choose!
I had surfed prior to the screening and was experiencing that fuzzy contentness. A small note from the director Ollie Banks, musician/surfer/filmaker, instructed me to “watch it in the dark & watch it loud”! I urge you to do the same thing.
FOM: Can you explain the title of the film? How long did it take to shoot?
Ollie Banks: Nine hundred miles is the distance there and back (give or take a few feet) between two of my favourite waves, and the places where I decided I’d like to make a film. As for how long I’ve been shooting it; well I read in the local paper that I’d be working on it for 10 years! In reality it was about three years with a few gaps here and there. I didn’t shoot religiously a lot of the time or on necessarily the best swells; on a lot of the perfect days I’d end up surfing, so rather than a definitive portrait it’s more of a film surrounding my own surfing life, with the odd session and reel shot here and there.
FOM: I thought that your format choice led to many dream-like sequences. I know you’re a super frame grabber – what lights you up about film?
Ollie Banks: I started shooting the project on DV and Super 8 film, but became more and more obsessed by film as time went by. I think film tends to find its flow more naturally; there’s a softness and sentimentality inherent within, maybe an innocence of sorts. Film sometimes has a life of its own and like the medium it’s capturing, does unexpected things; but it’s these moments that are often the ones worthy of a place in our memories.
This film was born during mornings alone in the waves near my home and inspired by the beauty I saw in the dances of others. When I started surfing there was a sudden influx of things that seemed alien and removed from the world I had known so far; I suppose the dreamlike, slightly removed sensations and qualities I saw in the 8mm were a truer representation of the relationship I had. Everything about shooting with Super 8 works better for me; what you spend on film & processing you save on not having to buy expensive cameras & housings, then worry about them all the time. I doubt I’ll ever go back to video; though I do quite fancy a Red Scarlet if they ever come out…
FOM: A coldwater ‘Litmus’? Agree or disagree?
Ollie Banks: I don’t think I could be so bold really…
FOM: Tell me about the surfers involved and why you shot them.
Ollie Banks: I shot the people that inspired me around and about my home. I think I’ve always had a thing about flow, and some people just seem to flow better than others; that’s what surfing is to me and what I wanted to show. There had always been a few people in the water who stood out to me personally, most of whom were friends, so I didn’t have to put a lot of thought into whom I wanted to shoot.
FOM: Filming or surfing?
Ollie Banks: Surfing and filming.
FOM: Was it heart-wrenching to be out in those waves and not be surfing?
Ollie Banks: Not really, I had more amazing sessions during those years than I care to remember, and got to see things I wouldn’t have seen had I not been there with a camera. There were countless days, certainly some of the best, when I really should have filmed but ended up surfing. Sometimes I used to stress about it a bit, but a lot of that was a learning curve; I’d say I’m now a lot more directed with what and when I film. I think maybe 8mm teaches you to be frugal with what you shoot; to do some of the editing in your head before you pull the trigger.
FOM: What’s in your quiver?
Ollie Banks: At the moment:
6’4″ skimmer keel
9’4″ parabolic quad
Shaped by Mark Dickinson.
FOM: Tell me about the music on the film.
Ollie Banks: I guess I’d originally hoped to record a lot more of it myself but friends kept giving me things that just seemed right, so I went with them. I think I was lucky to me a lot of good (and generous) musicians whilst making the film and things just kind of fell into place. There’s links to all the artists on my blog so please check them out.
FOM: What are your inspirations?
Ollie Banks: Pre-dawn light, long distance groundswell, flat reefs, the open sky.
FOM: What’s next?
Ollie Banks: I’ve just exhibited the first part of a collaboration with poet Mark Dickinson at The Centre for Contemporary Art & the Natural World called ‘Last Dance of the Newt?’ its a short visual & text based piece addressing loss through development in our landscapes. We’re hoping to do a limited release dvd and booklet in the next few months, with a fuller text based work from Mark, entitled ‘Species & Community’ to follow.
I’ll also be releasing a collection of songs recorded sporadically over the last few years sometime in the autumn or as soon as I sit down and record the last few! I’ve been filming for the past year on a project called ‘Five Points of Composition’, which I hope to release next summer. I’ve got a stack of film in the fridge and an open mind.
FOM: Any thank yous or shout outs?
Ollie Banks: Thanks to everyone who helped me get there with ‘Nine Hundred Miles’, and all those who continue to inspire me with their creations. Never give up the quest!
‘Nine Hundred Miles’ is out now and available from Fluid Concept.