Hanging 5 with Chris Cutri
Since moving to North America at the age of 12, I’ve been obsessed by everything about board culture. At first it was skateboarding and then at 17 I began surfing. Like most other youth I absorbed board culture through print media. Surf and skateboard magazines have a huge impact on youth culture and I’m sure that many of my views were somewhat shaped by hours spent reading Thrasher and Surfer magazines. But what strikes me now is a question about how much of what I read was contrived?
You may know Chris Cutri from his excellent film Riding the Wave. The film took a critical look at the commercialization of surfing and surf culture. Chris is back now with his second surf inspired film titled Hanging 5. The film looks at the lives of five working artists who also happen to be surfers.
I must admit that at first I was skeptical. I immediately had a vision of the SoCal perfect sunrise, and perfect sunset vibe. I was sure that I would be fed more contrived surf culture imagery. But it’s not quite so simple and often my judgments precede objectivity. So I fired off some questions to Chris. He sent me a screening copy of the film. And we were off to the races.
I’ve watched the film twice now. The film includes Julie Goldstein, Tyler Warren, Andy Davis, Alex Knost and the amazing Wolfgang Bloch. Cutri weaves the film with his usual sense of style and the artists lives unfold to show not only their passion and commitment to their work, but also the work ethic that it takes to find success as an artist. And I think that that was what inspired me the most. Life, like surfing, is about pursuing our interests with a strong work ethic and a steady st(r)oke.
Q. Well Chris you’re back at it and this time with a different approach to Riding the Wave. Can you tell about the theme of Hanging Five and how the idea came about?
Over the last few years, I’ve been following the art scene within the surf culture. It has fascinated me that this group actually exists and how it has increasingly become more popular over the years. I’m a big fan of art in its different forms. My sister and mother in law are both fine art painters. I have also done some painting and photography myself, so the interest for me on a personal level has always been there. The film not only documents these 5 artists work, but it also try’s to examine why the surf culture supports and promotes the arts. What is it about surfing that connects itself to artistic creativity?
Q. How did you connect with the artists/ surfers?
I have been following the work of these and several other artists in this community. I chose these five because I resonated with their work. Through mutual acquaintances I was able to connect with the artists. They graciously accepted to be in the film to which I’m thankful for.
Q. I think it’s fair to say that at least here in North America we’re spoon fed the often contrived So Cal surfer lifestyle of cruising and endless sunsets —something that is hard to relate to here in the North Atlantic for example. Some of the artists in your film may fit this mould. Did you find this to be true with any of your subjects?
Although most of the artists are from So Cal and surfing is a huge part of their lives, I’m not sure if they fit the “contrived” persona you’re talking about. I was very impressed with how thoughtful each artist was in relation to their work and about life in general. It’s interesting to see how the media has constructed the image of the surfer.
Q. Alex Knost is a controversial dude. A lot of people seem to judge him based strictly on the way he presents himself. Others claim that his surfing skill is questionable and that he only surfs small waves. Did you get a sense of the real person behind the marketed image of hipster surfer?
Alex is a very interesting person and I’ve felt that controversy as I show the film. Since I was with him in person on several occasions, I felt like I got to see someone who is kind and thoughtful. Yes, the hipster persona is there and I think there is a conscious decision to try to break away from the typical “Hey Dude” image that exists in surfing and move towards more of the bohemian/artist persona. There’s a section in the film called, “A Day In The Life of Alex Knost” and it goes on to recount one day that Alex literally experienced: 8-12am Surfing, 1-3pm get posters ready for his film, 3-5pm Set up posters and sound check the film, 6-8pm Play a gig with his band The Japanese Motors, 8-10pm screen his new film “Beach Blanket Burnout” in Santa Ana. This was all in one day. I find it impressive that Alex, instead of consuming pop culture (which most kids his age are) is producing it. Dora wasn’t into big waves…I personally feel Alex is one of the most interesting surfers to watch.
Q. Personally I’m a big fan of Tyler Warren’s surfing as well as his drawing. How much are these young artists influenced by corporate interests? As opposed to Wolfgang Bloch’s fine art approach.
I think they are only influenced by corporate interests in that they have to provide for themselves and their families. I think at the end of the day most of them would like to be fine artists and work on that exclusively and not have to sell t-shirts etc. Alex mentions in the film that he doesn’t even like to sell his art-that once you sell the art, it defeats the purpose of making the art in the first place.
Q. And what about the longboard connection in the film? Was that your wish or was it an organic thing? There’s a few “shortboarder” artists out there as well.
The longboard connection was completely coincidental. I had no intention of just focusing on longboarders.
Q. So now after these two films what’s your take on the state of surf culture in North America?
I think we’re at an interesting point in the surf culture right now. I don’t follow the whole ASP competition scene, but it seems like there’s a younger generation of surfers who are doing real interesting things within the culture: making all types of different boards, producing media that is new and fresh, and having more control over the surf culture that they want to see versus a certain paradigm that is forced upon them (this is still happening), but I think many are trying to create their own vision of what the surf culture can be. I hope it continues.
Q. Do you have any other surf film idea floating around?
When I made my first film “Riding The Wave”, I thought I would never do another surf film again. I felt like I accomplished everything I wanted to say or discuss about surfing in that film. Then the art topic came along and I got really into that. As of right now, I’m tossing around a few ideas, but nothing solid yet. All I know is that I have to be super passionate about the subject matter before I dive into it.
Chris Cutri is a filmmaker and professor at Brigham Young University
You can get more info about the film at the website: