Surfwise, a film by Doug Pray, is just about what a modern day documentary should be. Stylish, eclectic, well photographed and edited, and just flat out entertaining from start to finish; this is a great example of how to make a documentary accessible to just about any viewer, especially one that wouldn’t be prone to sitting through a boring, hum-drum documentary, because this isn’t a boring, hum-drum documentary – it’s alive and kicking, and knows how to tell its story right. I went into this with pretty much no expectations, and came out so impressed, I actually wanted to watch it again.
The film details the life of a man named Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, his wife Juliette, and their nine children, as they all lived essentially off the land together in a 24-foot camper, traveling the country and the world, and living by the philosophy of patriarch Doc Paskowitz. It goes through their history, as well as their present, and while you may not get the impression they are so wildly important that they need a documentary made about them, by the end you’ll gain an appreciation for why this documentary was made. The film is unbelievably blunt, in both language and subject matter; swearing is constant (and, I guessed, largely to blame for the film’s R rating), sexual discussion is frank and unyielding, and all of it is never given a filter or stop-gap for us as viewers – it’s just thrown right at us, with very little warning to duck or move out of the way if we’d have wanted to. Everything is presented to lead us to the fact that these children, despite all their dysfunctions and complicated relations with each other, all of them are truly their father’s children; they’ve really learned what their father tried to hard to hammer into them, and even though they’ve gone their separate ways, they will always be a family, THE Paskowitz family. And all the while, that sound bit repeats on occasion… “9 children, in a 24-foot camper”, constantly reminding us of the unbelievability of the nature that this family lived in.
It was about an hour into this hour-and-a-half film that I realized, I was being moved by what I was seeing. This feature, about a family so much different, and at the same time, not so different from the rest of us, had a strange power that affected me; I couldn’t place it, but I could still be moved by it, and I was. This was originally just another documentary that I saw trying to take up the spot of “modern documentary” that seems ever-changing on the list. After I saw it, I was disappointed that it didn’t manage to stay on the list; this is a damn good documentary, entertaining, enlightening, and emotionally powerful in ways I wasn’t expecting. This is a great documentary to recommend to someone looking to get into the field of documentaries; not for its historical value or importance in the field, but just because it’s a great film to watch. Definitely see this one, if you get the chance to.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10