Punk, Surf and Redemption in Long Beach

I had to go to Rockville Center to attend the Long Beach International Film Festival, but that was my choice. Despite its slightly diffuse geographical arrangements, (things will only get better when the Long Beach movie theater finally makes it back from Sandy) the festival remains an up and comer, with good sponsorship and a strong sense of community. Film is all about relationships, and the LBIFFNY, under the guileless leadership and genuine passion of co-founders Craig Weintraub and Ingrid Dodd, should only continue to grow.

After regrettably missing the “shorts on the beach” programming on Friday night Aug. 1, I took advantage of the subpar weather on Saturday to catch some early afternoon screenings at the state-of-the-art Madison Theater on the campus of Molloy College. When I settled in and the lights went down (oh, that magic feeling!), I remembered that film is also about story and the talent to tell it, and the film I caught answered the bell. Radical Rio is an edgy and well-paced documentary about the rise, fall and rebirth of Dada Figueiredo – the Godfather of Brazilian surfing. I couldn’t help but wonder why a surf film wasn’t showing on the beach. But with its taut narrative set up and dramatic opening vibe, the film swept me away and I let it all go. Ride the wave, indeed.

Radical Rio succinctly chronicles the drastic ups and downs of “Dada” as he’s known worldwide: outcast, iconoclast, rebel, pied piper and ultimate victim of his own success. Dada was a poor kid from the outskirts of Sao Paulo who set the surfing subculture afire in the 70’s with his unique blend of ease, individuality and daring in the water. Out of the water, Dada was just as provocative. He was loud, rude and uncompromising. A fervent subculture quickly developed around him; Dada went from man to myth, and loved/hated every second of it.

As his legend continued to grow and coincide with the explosion of surfer/skater culture in Brazil in the 80’s, and the “corporate fucks and parasites” started to hitch their wagon to his star, Dada abandoned his bag of tricks for an increasingly hardcore image – and lifestyle to match. Whenever “fashion” got close to Dada, he pushed harder and faster towards “anti-fashion,” only to have the masses in the surf world eventually catch up to him again. In trying to outpace his own success, Dada pushed the envelope too far in all the wrong directions, making many friends and more than a few enemies along the way. After a near fatal stabbing fueled by petty revenge left him near death, Dada descended into drug and alcohol abuse, only to find himself again in religion, family and the curl of a wave.

Using a highly kinetic pastiche of archival footage, home movies, animation and first person testimonials, director Raphael Erichsen manages to maintain a tight narrative thread (never easy in doc). He had his editor working overtime and a throbbing surf punk soundtrack matches the feverish look, tone and style of the film. But it’s not all flash, there’s real substance and message in this portrait of an artist.

Ultimately, Dada’s life arc is one of selfish to selfless, from hubris to humility. And when he looks at the camera with eyes that have seen the fire and says quite plainly, “To fall, all it takes is to be standing,” we know he’s talking about more than catching waves.

drew moss

Drew Moss is an SAT/ACT specialist, college advisor, journalist and filmmaker. He guest lectures at Adelphi University and lives in Long Beach with his wife and children. See his work at http://drewmoss.com.