Director: Todd Morehead
Writers: Bryan S. Jennings, Todd Morehead
Stars: Tom Curren, Maya Dauber, Todd Morehead
Since as long as I can remember, there has always been ongoing conflict in the middle East. Some people say the region will always remain in conflict due to its strong religious history. Whatever the case, most people remain ignorant to the events actually taking place. Some actually think the entire place just hates the U.S. or is simply sitting over there plotting our destruction. However, Promised Land shows a different side to the State of Israel. What side you ask? The surfing culture!
The film which is directed by Todd Morehead, involves his discovery of a different lifestyle in the land of Israel. Morehead explains that he is a devoted christian and has traveled to many places doing volunteer work through his life. Of all the locations though, Israel is the one place that always calls him back. We also learn that besides his love for God, he has a deep passion for surfing.
Which leads to a back-story of Morehead befriending an Israel native by the name of Hani- a surfer and surfboard maker-shaper. The two form an unlikely friendship that begins a journey on covering the surfing movement in the area. It’s interesting how these two individuals come from completely different worlds, yet they have changed each other’s life so drastically just by meeting once while surfing.
One of the best qualities for myself to find in a documentary is the discovery of something new and profound. As the film educates you on the history of the ever-long conflict in the region, it also opens your eyes to the people who are seeking a sense of normality in their lives. At any moment, these people can die from a bomb launch from a bordering country. Surfing is the one way these guys find peace within their lives.
The surfing also drowns all differences between them as individuals. As one Israel surfer explains in the movie, differences of religions and backgrounds are not even a factor between them. They find peace within each other and life in the water. I laughed as one of the Israel surfers jokingly commented that, “if everyone in the middle-east surfed, there would finally be peace.”
The film is actually impressively shot and has a rich texture to it. It’s a noteworthy achievement that these guys were able to make a documentary look this good. Many documentaries with the same modest budget don’t usually achieve the same camerawork that these guys pulled off. The surfing shots were absolutely gorgeous as well as the scenery coverage. Russell Brownley who did the cinematography did an excellent job.
The editing is also executed nicely with a consistent flow all throughout the story. I never once found myself bored or losing my attention span while watching, which says a lot for a guy who has ADD. The rhythm is solid and keeps you involved in each progression of the documentary.
Now, to address a few nitpicks I have. Some moments in the film felt a bit forced as far as grabbing realism. It seemed that some of the filming may have been planned a little too much, which caused some of the genuine shots to become uncomfortable for the people being filmed. For example, Hani heads to the U.S. to meet surfboard shaper Al Merrick, who Hani idolizes. When he does, the introduction feels natural because they don’t seem to be paying attention to the camera, but then they have lunch and the conversation all of a sudden feels staged. Not that it is, it’s just the people being documented are too aware of the filming and they talk as if a camera is present, and no longer are relaxed to be themselves. The naturalness of the moment is lost. Fortunately, this happens very few times in the movie and doesn’t detract from the film as a whole.
Another minor complaint I have is I wished I learned more about the surfing itself in Israel. The documentary at times went off course to explore other events that were happening, such as the surfers taking a tour through historical religious locations, or switching the focus to the arrival of famous surfer, Tom Curren. All of which were elements I enjoyed, but didn’t seem to be the central purpose of the film. However, there is a terrific part of the documentary involving Tom Curren searching for a surfer kid in Israel.
Despite a few small setbacks, Promised Land is definitely worth your time. It aims to not only open your eyes to the struggles Israel faces everyday but the real nature of the citizens of the land. It’s a beautifully shot eye-opener of a society we should already know and understand. The people of Israel are average people just trying to find a peace in their lives and for many, it is gained through surfing. For many, it builds a connection among them that wasn’t present before.