An Interview with Nathan Oldfield

September 14, 2017

Photos: Nathan Oldfield

You just released ‘The Church of the Open Sky’, beautiful work I must say! What was your inspiration behind making it?

Thank you. Well, I feel like I’m always inspired to make surf films. It’s almost like as soon as I finish one, I start to think about the next one. I’ve been doing it for so long now, that it has just become a natural extension of my surfing life. Also, I guess I’m wired to make things. I feel a deep down need to always be creating something.

How would you say surfing shapes local culture in regions of the world that are somewhat new to it?

I think the exchange can go both ways. All of us can probably think of places on the planet where surfing has been a blessing and also perhaps a curse. Surfing has so much to offer all of us, whether we are new to surfing or whether we have been surfing for a long time. On one hand there are so many positives: connection to nature, community, personal wellbeing. And sometimes there seems to be a connection with surfing and less positive impacts: unhealthy tourism, pollution, overcrowding, overdevelopment, cultural insensitivity. So it really can go either way. For this reason I feel all of us have an individual responsibility to tread gently and gratefully and sensitively when we travel.

Bing rider Lauren Hill treading gently.
Bing rider Lauren Hill treading gently.

As an independent surf filmmaker, what would you say your biggest challenge is?

For me the biggest challenge is that the process of making films is enormously time consuming and not very financially viable. I have never been able to make a living from making surf movies, and I’ve been doing it for over fifteen years. It’s never been my day job. I’m a primary school teacher. Making surf films is just something that I have done on the side because I am passionate about it. I’m also a father of three kids and as they have grown older I’m increasingly finding it a juggle, just managing my time between teaching and filmmaking and being a good dad and a good husband. On the flip side, surf filmmaking has helped me support my family and given us wonderful travel opportunities and friends all over the world.

Lauren Hill, perched in paradise.
Lauren Hill, perched in paradise.

When did you start making surf films, and how would you say your style / process of filming surfing has changed over the years?

I started over fifteen years ago. I was just self taught. I’ve never had any training. I’ve taken photographs my whole life, but never moving pictures. Honestly, it kind of happened by accident. My friends and I would rotate camera duty at the beach, just swapping between shooting and surfing. We would only ever shoot when the waves were small, because none of us were willing to be on the beach behind a camera when it was pumping. So that’s kind of how I started. But as time went on I fell in love with the process of collecting moving images and editing them to music.

I’ve also had a life long love affair with surf films. So in lots of ways when I look back it was just kind of a natural progression for me, a natural extension of a surfing life. It’s interesting to think about how my style may have changed over that time. In the last month I went through the process of adding all of my films to Vimeo On Demand, and I had to watch each film before I uploaded it. It was interesting for me because I don’t really watch my films after I make them. There are definitely little stylistic ways of shooting and editing images that seem to be present in each film. There are common threads in terms of content too: gender inclusivity, elders, storytelling, left-of-centre surfboards, left-of-centre surfers. And also, looking back, I feel that I can see an evolution in the craft of filmmaking. Each film seems like an improvement on the last in terms of production quality and watch-ability. At least I hope so!

Lauren Hill, and her Bing Raven, reflecting.
Lauren Hill, and her Bing Raven, reflecting.

Watching your films create as much stoke as a feeling of enlightenment. Is this intentional?

Thank you. That is such generous feedback. I feel deeply and intrinsically that surfing can be a metaphysical activity, as much as it is a physical activity or a sport. It may not be everyone’s experience, but I believe that if our hearts are open and receptive to the lessons that a surfing life imparts, we can actually become better human beings. Surfing can affect us so deeply and profoundly. I try not to get preachy about this kind of stuff in my films, but I think these kinds of themes naturally keep reoccurring.

Why did you decide to originally release ‘The Church of the Open Sky’ on DVD?

It was a lot of hassle, really, but I basically did it for my older audience. Personally I haven’t bought a DVD in years, but I know some people still like to buy something tangible that they can hold in their hands. I felt like it was the right thing to do, for those folk who have been such loyal supporters. Now that the DVDs are nearly all gone, I have released the movie on Vimeo On Demand. It’s a great platform for indie filmmakers like me because it enables you to side-step the distribution middle-man who usually takes a cut of over half a film’s profit. But at the same time it’s a bit of an experiment to go out on my own with distribution. This is the first time I have done it. It’s a risk because I’ve poured so much of myself into this film, my time, my money, my energy and my heart. But because I’m a self-funded independent filmmaker, I want to have a shot at being independent in how I share the film with the world.

David Rastovich and Lauren Hill are your good friends. Does this make it easier to shoot with them?

Yes we are really close and they live just down the road. We like working together for sure. Generally speaking, I tend to shoot with people I have a connection with. If I don’t click with a surfer on a personal level, I tend to not bother with working with him or her. Most of the people in my films are good friends. That’s why they keep popping up again and again in my movies.

David is riding the Bing Speed Square in ‘The Church of the Open Sky’. What was your first impression when seeing him ride it?

I’ve seen Dave riding them for some years now. He makes it look really easy, but I’m hopeless on them. Chris makes them look great too. The special thing about the Speed Squares is how fast they can go. They are remarkably quick. Crazy speed. I never get tired of watching Dave ride the Squares. It’s proper fifth gear surfing, beautifully spontaneous and fresh. They really are unlike any other surfboard in the water

David Rastovich, locked in on a Bing Speed Square.
David Rastovich, locked in on a Bing Speed Square.

You ride Bing Surfboards, what models make you the most happy? 

I love my two Sunfish. They make me very happy on a regular basis. I’m also super pumped to try the new Concave Keel and Foil that I have just ordered. Matt’s boards are amazing. The craftsmanship and quality of Bing Surfboards is world class. It’s a pleasure and privilege to have them under my feet.

Do you plan on premiering ‘The Church of the Open Sky’ in Southern California or elsewhere in the US? 

Yes, finally it looks like I have a few shows in California and elsewhere in the States in the pipeline. First California showing will be Friday, September 15th at  The Sandbox Santa Barbara

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