Filmmakers Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman on Hawaii’s North Shore in Oahu PHOTO COURTESY OF MACGILLIVRAY FREEMAN FILMS
In 1972, Laguna Beach resident Greg MacGillivray put California surf culture on a worldwide stage with his iconic documentary, Five Summer Stories (fivesummerstories.com). Here, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker and co-founder of MacGillivray Freeman Films discusses his cult classic—edited to include five additional stories, and theatrically released by Adventure Entertainment in August to honor its 50th anniversary—and new memoir, Five Hundred Summer Stories: A Life in IMAX (500summerstories.com), out Nov. 15.
Why was surfing something you were so drawn to as a documentary filmmaker? My father was a lifeguard in Corona Del Mar, so I grew up at the beach and began surfing at age 12. When I got a movie camera a year later, I began shooting short films about things I k new and loved, including surfing.
What inspired you to make Five Summer Stories in 1972?
In 1969 and 1970, my business and creative partner, Jim Freeman, and I released what we believed would be our final surfing film, The Sunshine Sea, a film that we produced for a general audience. At the time, we had started expanding our filmmaking skills and were beginning to accept assignments and film jobs from the Hollywood studios. But I had a growing desire to produce one more surfing film, one made primarily for surfers. So, Jim and I began shooting Five Summer Stories. We wanted it to reflect our love of the ocean, our fascination with and love of surfing, as well as the environmental concerns that were being expressed at that time.
What was going on in the world at the time that made surfing such a great outlet?
In 1972, America’s growing concern for the environment was really taking hold. The first Earth Day was held, and approximately 10% of the U.S. population turned out for rallies in the major cities. At the same time, we were dealing with the war in Vietnam, which nearly everyone opposed, and surfing itself was undergoing its own changes. Boards were getting shorter and were being made of lighter materials. Surf leashes were being invented. Wetsuits were being made out of thinner neoprene rubber, which allowed for easier surfing in the wintertime. Surf contests were becoming more and more commercialized. Five Summer Stories tried to reflect the changes that were occurring on land as well as in the water.
What sort of reaction did you get to the film?
The film unexpectedly became an overnight sensation, appealing to both surfers and to people who didn’t spend much time near the ocean. Its beautiful surf scenes, and the power of its messages and its music [by artists including The Beach Boys], captivated people. Everyone in Southern California and Hawaii was talking about it, and it instantly became the most popular surfing film since Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer eight years earlier. Because of this enthusiastic response, the film continued to play for the next seven years. We brought out at least three new versions and people would come see it night after night.
Corky Carroll was the first true professional surfer with paid endorsements. He won more than 100 surfing contests and was voted Surfer magazine’s No. 1 surfer in 1968 PHOTO COURTESY OF MACGILLIVRAY FREEMAN FILMS
How has surfing changed in California?
Surfing has changed radically over the past 50 years. It’s not only a full-blown professional sport, with thousands of surfers being able to call it a career, but the type of surfing done on big waves was undreamed of 50 years ago. Surfers such as Kai Lenny and Laird Hamilton are pushing the sport with revolutionary maneuvers as well as creative and new technologies. Surfing is even now recognized as an Olympic event. Our film, which came out just as many of these changes were just getting underway, reflects a kind of crossroads and shows us just how far surfing, as well as our environmental awareness, has come.
Filmmaker Greg MacGillivray in West Papua, Indonesia, with his Solido IMAX 3D camera. PHOTO COURTESY OF MACGILLIVRAY FREEMAN FILMS
“OUR FILM, WHICH CAME OUT JUST AS MANY OF THESE CHANGES WERE JUST GETTING UNDERWAY, REFLECTS A KIND OF CROSSROADS AND SHOWS US JUST HOW FAR SURFING, AS WELL AS OUR ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS, HAS COME.” –GREG MACGILLIVRAY
Five Summer Stories highlights the storied 1971 surf season on Hawaii’s North Shore, which saw some of the finest days at Pipeline ever. PHOTO COURTESY OF MACGILLIVRAY FREEMAN FILMS
What does your memoir Five Hundred Summer Stories: A Life in IMAX encompass?
The book reflects the three distinct chapters of my filmmaking career and the many adventures and challenges I’ve experienced along the way. The first section is about my early filmmaking years where I learned the art of filmmaking by trying to produce artful, leading-edge surfing films. The second focuses on our work advancing photographic and storytelling techniques for Hollywood films and working with such celebrated directors as Stanley Kubrick on The Shining, and on films like Big Wednesday, The Towering Inferno, Blade Runner, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Koyaanisqatsi. The third section is about my work pushing the awe-inspiring and challenging film format called IMAX. Over the past 45 years, making films in the IMAX medium has been my main focus, and our company has become central to the advancement and success of IMAX documentary films worldwide.