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Andy Beth Miller

An Italian Surf Film?

There is an Italian phrase, l’arte d’arrangiarsi, which literally translates to “the art of making something from nothing.” When filmmaker Jason Baffa and surfer Chris Del Moro approached their latest project, it was with this “bare canvas” concept in mind that they dreamed, planned and ultimately created the cinematic tour de force that is Bella Vita.

Previously showcased as the initial installment of Honolulu International Film Festival’s Courtyard Cinema series, which hosts a selection of its curated films for free viewing on the second Thursday evening of each month during summer, Bella Vita was met with rave reviews and makes its return to Oahu July 6 and 23 as a part of Honolulu Surf Film Festival, sponsored by Honolulu Museum of Art and held at the famed Doris Duke Theatre.

Bella Vita means “beautiful life,” such a short and simple title for such a grand ideal, yet somehow it is this exact juxtaposition of abundance (in story and spirit) and undiluted honesty (in aesthetics and script) that creates the modest metaphor of this film, woven like a glorious golden thread throughout its thematic tapestry.

It is just this embodied spirit of simplicity that cements the unbreakable bond between Italian surf culture and the meaning of life, right down to its marrow — a bond that is even able to surpass the stereotype that so commonly accompanies a surf film, bringing Bella Vita beyond the confines of just one classic genre.

In fact, Baffa himself hesitates to classify Bella Vita as “a surf film,” when the premise of the picture reaches so far beyond the realm of mere waves and riders. At its very core, Bella Vita is about birth — and life — and all the priceless moments and people that band together to make it beautiful.

“It’s really a film about life — as told through these traveling surfers,” explains Bella Vita director Baffa, “and Italy serves as its backdrop.”

Perhaps such logic and keen awareness is exactly what allows Bella Vita to bridge the long-standing gap between surf films and other genres of cinema. Somehow, Baffa and Del Moro have collaborated to create a picture that crosses that divide, diving into deeper seas where souls matter, wading through the waters of wanderlust and returning us from the shores of our own nomadic hearts with a whisper that speaks to us all: Go, see, be.

“The movie speaks of passion — of pursuing what you love,” Baffa shares. “For Chris (Del Moro) it’s surfing; for me it’s film; perhaps for you as a writer it is words. Whatever ‘it’ is for the person coming to the film, I want them to come discover — to see, to feel and to embrace — whatever ‘it’ is uniquely theirs, then pursue that with passion.”

It was with such passion that the idea for this pilgrimage was first pitched to veteran filmmaker Baffa. Approached by Del Moro on a surf trip in Bali (the two had met years earlier at the Santa Barbara Film Festival), Baffa listened intently as Del Moro described in great detail his desire to return to his Italian roots — to delve into this country known for its propensity to live life to the fullest, to dig deep into its history and to discover what it is within his spirit (and humankind as a whole) that resonates with such reverberating wonder at all the world that is Italia.

Armed with the knowledge that both he and Baffa shared Italian ancestry (both men’s fathers were of pure Italian descent), Del Moro mapped out a movie idea of retracing his roots — inspired by Italy’s rich history and fueled by its exuberant and effervescent inhabitants — each who serve to enrich and embody the true spirit of this cinematic sojourn.

“I was sold instantly on the concept,” recalls Baffa. “Chris had me right from the beginning believing in this project and wanting to do it, yet the first thing you think of is, ‘Surfing — in Italy?!’ — and that’s when the research and brainstorming and logistics of how we were going to make this work as an actual film and bring it all together began.”

Described by Baffa as a “true labor of love,” the making of Bella Vita was no easy journey — resembling more a meticulously crafted marathon than an instantaneous sprint to the screening.

“So many people came together to make this film happen,” says Baffa. “From (local winemaker and avid surfer) Piergiorgio Castellani’s generosity in letting us stay at his estate, to Chris and the other surfers giving of their time and energy, along with the Kickstarter campaign donors and so many more, this truly was a collaborative effort.”

In fact, Baffa admits that, at the time of booking his actual flight to Italy in order to begin filming, he still had yet to raise all the funds he needed to complete the film. According to Baffa, it was the shared, blind-to-all-obstacles belief in the film, along with the support and encouragement of those closest to him (the top of this list being his wife, Linda), that buoyed the filmmaker toward braving the unknown in confidence that the spirit and essence of the picture would reverberate with its viewing audience.

And reverberate it does.

Already the film has garnered respect and recognition from both surf film festivals and international film festivals around the world, from San Sebastian to Santa Barbara and London to Byron Bay. A creative masterpiece marked by Arts London News as “a stunning piece of visual art,” this documentary-style motion picture has delighted and inspired audiences across the globe. Film critic Chris Johnson, from Arlington Theater Press, had these words of praise, describing Bella Vita as “a soulful and spirited transcendent travelogue.”

Yet another affirmation of Baffa’s incredible talent and ability as a cinematic storyteller comes by way of Santa Barbara Independent, attesting that, “Jason Baffa makes some of the best and most sneaky-thoughtful surf films in the game.”

“What at first seemed like a risk to me really just showed me what can be done,” asserts Baffa. “Everyone just believed so much in the spirit of the film, and I’m just really excited to see where it will go.”

Waves, roots and wandering hearts seeking — such is the spirit of Bella Vita, a film that was made in love and faith that continues to spread its message of the boundless beauty that is life.

We also are excited to see where it will go.

For more information, visit:

bellavitafilm.com;
Jasonbaffafilms.com
Honolulu Surf Film Festival: honolulumuseum.org/14495-7th_annual_honolulu_surf_film_festival
Courtyard Cinema: wardvillagecourtyardcinema.com

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