When you think of a 77 year old male, you probably think about knitted cardigans, outdated opinions, and Werther’s Originals. We’d hazard a guess, and say that a gnarly kitesurfing dude in a wetsuit probably wasn’t the first thing that sprung to mind.
First in a series of three short films by James Callum and Alex Knowles, in partnership with Prime and Fire Selects, Talenthouse and BFI Future Film, The 77 Year Old Kite Surfer tells the story of David; a pensioner who describes kitesurfing as “…poetry in motion.”
David told us about his love for kitesurfing and its deeper relationship with his life as a whole
After the unexpected and tragic loss of his wife, David made the decision to live every moment in life to the fullest. He found solace in the escape and freedom that life on the water offered him, savouring the thrill of kitesurfing.
We spoke to the director James Callum about his experience with David, what motivated him to make this film, and his hopes for the future.
I bought my first video camera by selling some of my Mum’s old crockery on eBay. I started skateboarding when I was 11 and after a couple of years my friends and I started filming ourselves doing tricks. Various handy-cams with £20 clip-on fish-eye lenses would appear from backpacks and we’d film each other, mainly falling over. I never really thought it would be possible for me to travel as part of my job and I’ve been to some amazing places in Europe, US, Africa and Asia, worked with super cool teams and met some really incredible people.
When it comes to influences I could probably throw out some intelligent sounding examples, but it’s probably better to check my Netflix account. I watch quite a lot of documentaries and I’m usually driven by the subject matter rather than the name attached. I guess famous documentary filmmakers whose work I’ve watched and admired would include Werner Herzog; Nick Broomfield, Molly Dineen and Louis Theroux. For more commercial work I’d include David Fincher; Jonathan Glazer, Spike Jonze and more recently guys like Romain Gavras, Nabil, Daniel Wolfe and Hiro Murai. For comedy genius it would be Armando Iannucci, Chris Morris and Gervais.
The most memorable part was seeing David out on the water for the first time and reminding myself that he’s heading for 80
I worked on a documentary in South Africa interviewing all of the remaining survivors of the Rivonia Trial. It was a real privilege. These men spent over 20 years in prison on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela. Listening to their stories got me thinking about how we, as a generation obsessed with staring at screens and taking photos of ourselves, can tend to forget that we aren’t all that enthralling and perhaps the older generations might have something interesting to tell us.
Explaining what we were aiming to do was quite difficult for some of the subjects to understand. We found that showing them the 1-minute taster film we’d shot with Dickie The Oldest Footballer was the best point of reference. David was initially a fairly tough nut on the phone but an underlying tenderness came across during further conversations and even more so when we filmed with him.
Kitesurfing is more than something David did just did to keep fit. It has given him escapism from life and a feeling of freedom when he needed it most. The combination of a really cool, incredibly physical sport and such a captivating human meant we were very keen to use him as one of our subjects.
For our first trip to see David there was no wind, which apparently means it’s impossible to Kite Surf. We had to re-schedule to come back but David was away for a month so there was a big gap in between filming. The shoot days were freezing and David did look pretty cold, this got me slightly worried so we stopped filming pretty sharpish and concentrated on tea and biscuits. Also, shooting with the RED Epic M means you are recording at 5K, so the workflow was a bit trickier in comparison to other cameras like the C300 or F55.
There should never be a reason to stop doing what makes you happy
The most memorable part was seeing David out on the water for the first time and reminding myself that he’s heading for 80. Other than that it was probably seeing Alex trying to row David’s homemade rowing boat, there is a video of it somewhere and I’m pretty sure he falls in.
There are so many variables that can affect the outcome of a documentary. I think its good to be aware that you may not always get exactly what you’d set out to and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of our best content from this shoot wasn’t planned and came from a decision on the day. When we first arrived, David showed us around his house and got out a rowboat that he’d hand made from an old windsurfing board. From that we decided to do a whole section featuring him taking the boat out.
Whilst making the film I did think about life and the way that different people choose to live it. David describes himself as ‘an old man but with young thoughts’ and I think I’d definitely rather be that than a young man with old thoughts. There should never be a reason to stop doing what makes you happy.
Working on a project with my best mates was generally just great. Myself, Alex (Camera) and Mike (Sound) grew up together and have ended up working in different areas of the same industry. It’s pretty great hopping in a van and driving round the country with your mates and being able to work as a team, it barely felt like work at all.
The team at Prime and Fire allowed us total freedom during production, which was great. The only real pressure I felt was that I wanted David, Dilys and Mick to be pleased with the films. If other people find them engaging or inspiring then that’s great news!
As for what’s next, I just finished directing on my first TV commercial featuring a rather amazing 12-year skateboarder from Qatar. As of next week I’m working on a TV show for a month or so. Ideally I’d love to work on some projects that have been as fun to make as this, if anyone has any then please get in touch!