'Surfer: Teen Confronts Fear' Director to Appear at the Cinematheque on Saturday

Born in New Jersey, Douglas Burke took up surfing after his family relocated to California when he was a teenager. After living in the South Pacific and then moving back to California, he started a family and taught his son to surf. When his son started taking on some of the bigger waves, he began to film him. At that point, he began thinking he should make a movie of some sort based on his surfing experiences.

The resulting film, Surfer: Teen Confronts Fear, shows at 9:15 p.m. on Saturday and at 8:25 p.m. on Sunday at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque.

Burke will attend Saturday’s screening and participate in a Q&A after the showing.

“As I was filming it, I didn’t see how I could make a feature,” says Burke, who teaches physics at the University of Southern California, in a recent phone interview. “I thought it would just be a silent movie. When [my son] was little, he changed so fast. In order to shoot dialogue scenes and stuff you have to have a block of time when you can have everyone there. There wasn’t a block of time when I could do that, and it was spread out over months. His face changed and his height and weight changed. It was just too fast. I thought, ‘He rode these big waves, and I really want to make it into a story.’ I wanted to make a story around it with me being this ghost-like character who comes back to help him, and we could recall those earlier years through his memory.”

Released earlier this year, the indie film has started to make the festival rounds, and responses have been mixed. Because Burke acts so serious as the young surfer’s father, his performance comes off as something rather campy. While Burke says that wasn’t his intention, he doesn’t mind if viewers see humor in the film, which he admits has a “spiritual message.”

“God is a big part of the story, but there is a lot of humor in it,” he says. “You’ll have that with the character. When your character is a ghost, you don’t have the tragedy and fear of death. When you remove that, you’re left with comedy. You have to play it like a Man of La Mancha. You’re gonna have the humor, but you need it because the content is serious. If you don’t have the humor, people won’t be able to sit through it. [At the screenings], there are people reciting the lines like Rocky Horror. They shake my hand and stuff. There’s also more profoundly touched audiences like Boy Scouts and their parents and faith community members.”

Some critics have claimed the film has the potential to turn into The Room, the Tommy Wiseau movie that's become a cult classic.

“When people compare it to The Room, they compare it to the idea that it’s one single person who wrote, directed and stars in it,” says Burke when asked about the comparisons to The Room. “I don’t know Tommy [Wiseau], and I didn’t know about his film. I was locked into the university. It seems like to me that when he made his movie, he was that person. He was like Don Quixote in real life. He had this dream to make the movie and that was his life. For me, it’s more like my character was the father of Hamlet-type guy. My character is more like that, but Tom Wiseau is more like his actual personality in life. That’s where a lot of his humor comes from. The humor in Surfer comes from the madman who has an impossible dream and people look at him and say it’s crazy. It’s more like the humor in Dante’s works or in [work by Don Quixote author] Cervantes. You’ve seen this character in literature. But I like the comparisons to The Room. It’s gotten me lots of screenings.”

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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