Surf Filmmaker Nathan Oldfield on Finding Joy in the Ocean

To say that Nathan Oldfield makes heartfelt movies is to understate the matter. Seaworthy, made three years ago, touched on the loss of his daughter, Willow, and the search for hope. His new film, The Heart & the Sea, is rooted in the comfort he and other surfers find in the ocean — comfort and, ultimately, joy, even despite such a heartbreaking loss.

“I deliberately wanted to choose a variety of subjects for The Heart & The Sea: surfers from different cultures; women as well as men; babies, children, young people, mums and dads, grandparents, elders,” Oldfield said. “I think surfing deserves such a film, where the brushstrokes of the ways in which it is presented are perhaps a little broader than they have previously been.

We spoke with Oldfield to learn more.

What was your concept was for The Heart & The Sea?
The driving idea or feeling that underpins The Heart & The Sea is pretty simple, really. The film explores the joy that lies at the very centre of a surfing life: family, friends and a shared connection and relationship with the sea.

What are you hoping to communicate?
After I made Seaworthy I actually felt that I had said all I wanted to say about surfing. But then some things stirred in my soul and I felt there was something else to share. This film is called The Heart & The Sea because it’s about what is important in life to me, intimacy with family and friends and intimacy with the sea. A surfing life is a beautifully significant, meaningful, lifelong journey for so many of us. I’m so grateful for the many deep, rich friendships that I have made through surfing and I think that many of us, if we reflect back on our surfing lives, might share similar sentiments. That gratitude and that joy are really the heartbeat of my new film.

How did you go about selecting the surfers for your film?
I deliberately wanted to choose a variety of subjects for The Heart & The Sea: surfers from different cultures; women as well as men; babies, children, young people, mums and dads, grandparents, elders. I think surfing deserves such a film, where the brushstrokes of the ways in which it is presented are perhaps a little broader than they have previously been. And I also made choices about the cast on a deeper level, too. One of the most significant gifts for me over the last decade as a surf filmmaker has been building precious friendships with surfers that I’ve met along the way. Most of the surfers in The Heart & The Sea are dear friends. It’s important to me to have surfers in my films who aren’t just good surfers, but people with beautiful souls. It’s my privilege and pleasure to be able to work with them.

It’s been three years since your last film (Seaworthy). How is this film different?
In some ways, this film grew out of the place where Seaworthy finished. Seaworthy was an emotional film to make in that the centerpiece of the movie was about losing our daughter, Willow. Some of that grief permeates the entirety of the film, at least for me, even though the second part of Seaworthy is really about new hope and a return to joy. The Heart & The Sea moves forward in that joy, that gratitude for life and living and friendships and family. I remember after we had the première of Seaworthy my good friend Tom Wegener and I were together having a deep talk about the film. He looked me right in the eye and he predicted, with his wonderfully infectious enthusiasm, “Nathan, your next film will be all about joy!” He was absolutely right.

Your films have a real emotional depth. Tell us where that comes from and how you are able to communicate that.
I’m not sure, really. I think I’m just a bit of a ponderer. I think and feel about things deeply. I always have. That quality emerges in my work, it’s almost like I can’t help it. Also, I think that for a lot of us, surfing is something we’re profoundly connected to. Surfing is massively meaningful on so many levels in our lives. So when I document surfing, it comes from that emotional and even spiritual place.

How did you go about selecting the music?
The music acquisition for this film was a real challenge: sourcing songs and getting permission to use them is incredibly time consuming. But, finally, the hard work has paid off. I am really proud of the soundtrack for The Heart & The Sea, the variety of music is rich and the quality of songcraft is absolutely amazing and I am so grateful for the artists who have generously shared their creative work.

What is your favorite scene or the one you are most proud of?
Oh, that’s a great question, and it’s too hard to answer. I’m too connected with the people in the film to have a favorite, to be honest. I love all of them, and I tried so hard to represent them all well. So I’ll have to let the audience decide on that one.

What did you learn from making this film? What were some of the challenges?
I’m a full-time school teacher. I don’t make surf films for a living. I’m also a husband and a dad. So the biggest challenge was balancing those things. There were a lot of late nights of editing involved! Also, when you undertake such a vast project on your own over a period of over three years, you learn a lot about things like perseverance, determination, creative desire, patience, commitment. I have learnt a lot about who I am as a person. Apart from those things, I feel like I keep improving in my abilities as a filmmaker, in terms of capturing and editing images and constructing stories.

What are your plans for the release of the film (dates and places)?
Thanks so much for your interest and encouragement. I am stoked and grateful. At the moment, I’m still working on artwork, subtitles, tying together loose ends. As a school teacher, it’s not easy for me to do a big tour and lots of film festival appearances, although the invitations have already been coming in. I am going to launch the film here in Australia this December and it will be released on DVD and online that month. Beyond that, I’m not sure of our plans yet.

What’s next?
That question is easy to answer: way less time in front of a computer! After working really hard on this film, I’m looking forward to simpler things. I fantasize about playing my ukuleles, falling asleep early, reading books, doing some writing, surfing, spending time in the garden, making some photographs, practising more yoga, building some surfboards, and especially having a whole lot more family time. They are simple dreams, but I’m excited just thinking about them. Later, after a break, I’m looking forward to making some short films.

To view the trailer for The Heart & The Sea by Nathan Oldfield, click here.

In affiliation with Liquid Salt.

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