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A Scarborough man’s new movie shows a lot, but tells little
By JEFF INGLIS  |  September 19, 2007
UNDER WATER: Entangling seaweed in BlueGreen.

BlueGreen | by Ben Keller | Dubious Honor Productions | 90 minutes | 6:30 pm September 23 | at SPACE Gallery, in Portland | $8 | 207.828.5600
Surfers aren’t an especially verbose or articulate bunch, really. They punctuate their sentences with “y’know” and list a lot of things “it’s all about.” But the problem is not a lack of vocabulary or even a reluctance to communicate. It’s that they have a connection that’s hard to put into words.

The surfers and other oceanophiles in BlueGreen, the new film by Scarborough filmmaker and surfer Ben Keller, struggle repeatedly to describe how they feel about the sea. Keller’s first feature-length film, Ishmael (2004), explored the motivations of wintertime surfers who brave near-freezing water and icy wetsuits to ride tiny waves on the New England coast. This time he’s trying to dive deeper, asking why surfers feel what they feel about their watery playground, and — though almost as an afterthought — trying to convince the film-viewing public to get involved with ocean-conservation efforts.

Keller will show the latest cut of the film (narrated by him, for now, for lack of money to hire a professional speaker) at SPACE Gallery on Sunday at 6:30 pm, to raise money to finish the project.

While the people in BlueGreen do articulate feelings merely suggested by other surf films, they still don’t answer the fundamental questions. Describing your testiness after days away from the ocean (as two of the people interviewed in the documentary do) is not an investigation into the nature of your connection with the sea.

The closest anyone comes to an eloquent explanation is Rabbi Nacham Shifren (a/k/a “the Surfing Rabbi” — really), who talks in vaguely clerical terms about how surfers’ attitudes toward life differ from other people’s because they regularly deal with overwhelming power, and manage to connect with — and ride — positive energy in the world around them. Shifren talks of “a drive to make the spiritual physical” that moves surfers off the beach and into the waves.

Less satisfying are clinical observations from scientists (such as Don Perkins of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute here in Portland) about how the health of the ocean is crucial to the health of the planet, and the interview of a woman who lives on a sailboat, in which she discusses her ocean-centered, water-borne life — while she’s sitting under a tree.

The bulk of the film’s joy, where it is to be found, is in the surfing scenes. This is not an adrenaline-filled giant-wave surf movie in the vein of The Endless Summer or even North Shore. Surfing in BlueGreen is ponderous, soulful, full of swells that aren’t even chest-high, and long, slow runs with the occasional turn. Only one guy in the entire film hangs 10. Even the surfboard cameras (including one underneath the board) are used in slow, relatively calm waves, giving a meditative feel. (Jarringly, one more conventional shot-from-the-shore scene features a very clear plumber’s crack on a surfing California lifeguard.)

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Related: Insane fun, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Beautiful Losers (2008), More more >
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