Santa Barbara International Spot light
2017 SBIFF Movie Spotlight: "Given"
The photography will amaze you, and the unique perspective of this film's story will keep you immersed as you're taken around the world in 72 minutes.
To narrate an entire film in a child's voice is no easy task, and "Given" does this masterfully and beautifully. One the best experiences about watching this film is that whether you're a surfer, an adventurer, a traveler, a historian, a naturalist or anything else, this film offers something for everyone.
So do yourself a favor here, and take your family and friends to watch something unique that you'll be talking about for a very long time.
Given is the simple yet powerfully contemplative story of a unique family legacy come full circle. Told through the visceral experience of a 6-year-old, Given follows legendary surfers Aamion and Daize Goodwin from their island home of Kauai through 15 different countries in the quest for surf and to fulfill a calling handed down through generations.
Set in wave after wave of stunningly visual earthscapes, Given blooms into a tender yet stirring exploration of a young boy’s understanding of life through his familial bonds and their reverence for nature. Deeply moving, Given gives us the humbling contrast of a small voice voyaging through a big world as it finds its way home again.
Q&A with Director Jess Bianchi and the protagonist couple, Aamion and Daize Goodwin
What inspired you to create this film and tell this story?
Aamion: We came up with the idea before we even had children. Knowing that we wanted to expose them to this amazing planet and all it has to offer. When we called Jess (director) and shot the idea at him it was only a matter of minutes before he returned the call and said yes let's do it.
Jess: We were childhood friends that had grown apart. Aamion became a pro surfer and I went into film. After visiting Kauai for the first time in over 10 years I bumped into Aamion. It was like no time had past and we picked right back up where we left off 18 years earlier. I saw the whole family paddling down Lumahi river and took a photo of them. They had a very special energy that is so easily captured by the lens.
We hung out on the beach that day and I very casually said, “ let’s do a project together sometime.” A few days later I was in San Francisco and received a call from Aamion asking if I’d be interested in traveling around the world with him and his family. Everything changed in that moment. I dropped everything I was involved in and put a team together. Three months later we were on the trip of our lives.
Why did you decide you would tell this narrative through a child’s eyes?
Jess: The film evolved from the time it was filmed to the time it was assembled. At first we used the voice of Aamion but something was wrong. I tried to record that of all the people involved in the film but something was missing. Then the day when Given's voice was recorded in the microphone, everything clicked. We all wanted something bigger than us, and it was the opportunity for a life to get off the beaten track.
How would you describe this film and its genre?
Jess: Ahhh that question is so tough……it is not a surf film, it’s not a nature or children/family film or traditional documentary but actually …all of the above. And probably the most interesting thing about the film because it doesn’t fit into any genre.
All of the shots in the film are amazing! Can you talk about the process of filming and the work it went on getting all of these fantastic shots around the world?
Devin Whetstone, cinematographer: The process of shooting Given was so unique. There was no script, no story boards, and usually not even a shot list. We had to learn to be on our toes and react as the action unfolded. Jess and I would scout the locations, anticipate what we thought might happen and then make an educated guess on where we should put the camera to capture the moment. In some cases we could ask the talent to wait for the camera to move to a better location or try to recreate the action again so that we could get a second angle but when you're working with untrained animals like elephants and 3-year old children or even just people who don't speak the same language, most of that goes out the window and you just have to hope you nail it or get really lucky.
When we first started shooting the movie I had no idea how to operate steadicam. This was before the days of the Movi and other gyro stabilizers which take little to no skill to operate so I actually had to spend quite a bit of time practicing how to use the tool.
In the first year with the steadicam I had climbed towers in Iceland, operate on the back of an elephant, run with Given across snake inhabited sand dunes and chase kangaroos and oxen through valleys and beaches. It felt a little bit like Steadicam boot camp. In the end, the steadicam became an invaluable tool in making this film. It allowed us to move the camera fluidly to get those perfect looking dolly shots but if a variable changed without notice, we didn't waste time resetting the dolly. Instead, I could simply move my body to adjust to the new situation on the fly and continue on with the shot.
Another big struggle making this movie was constantly being on the road. At almost any given time, I'd say at least one crew member was sick or injured. I, myself had cuts, staff infections, poison ivy, allergic reactions, tick bite fever (which is basically gangrene on your brain!), boils, food poisoning, diarrhea, sun burns, cuts on my hands from broken glass, cuts on the bottoms of my feet and knees from sharp rocks and reef... No matter how you felt, we all just kept on pushing forward because there was no one else who could cover for you.
We were such a small crew that there really wasn't anyone else who could pick up the slack. I remember we had a big expensive jib shot in Morocco in this poppy field and I had gotten food poisoning earlier in the day and I was passed out in the back of our truck laying on top of pelican cases throwing up out the side and Jess would call me out when they were ready and I'd jump up on the Jib and pray that I didn't vomit on the Goodwins below. We'd do a few takes and then I'd jump down and go back to throwing up next to the truck.
Even though we worked our asses off and suffered a lot, I had an amazing time. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done but definitely the most rewarding. I learned so much about life and film making. It was an incredible journey!
Technical Specs: 5K HD Red Epic, 24 fps, Angenieux DP Optimo Zoom Lenses, Arri Ziess Ultra Primes, Phantom Camera @ 1000 fps for ultra slow motion sequences
Please talk about the challenges you and your crew faced making this film.
Daize: There definitely were a few that are seared in my memories. Getting tick bite fever in a village in the middle of nowhere in Africa, that was the sickest I've ever been.
Aamion: Wasn't ever scared, but Given got really sea sick when we were in the Marshall Islands and couldn't stop throwing up. That definitely made me a little nervous as he couldn’t even keep water down and it went on for days.
Jess: Yes, I was consistently worried for the family and crew. I felt responsible for everyone’s safety. We had a few moments like getting Tick bite fever in South Africa. It put everyone but two us down including the kids. There were sketchy drives in Nepal and a lot of food poisoning in Morocco. Each place had its scare.
Which county was your favorite to film in and why?
Daize: There were so many!! Watching our daughter have her first milestones are always a huge stand out for me. Her first meal in Jerusalem. Her first steps at Redbluff in Australia. Then the look on True and Given's face when they saw the castles in Ireland. We met so many amazing people that were so kind, all of their hearts we now take with us forever.
Aamion: brining my Family back to Fiji where I was raised was huge for me personally. For my kids and wife to be out on an island in the middle of nowhere living off the land and under a bure house that my Fijian brothers and I built. Just look forward to getting back there, that simple life is where it’s always been for me.
Jess: Glacier surfing, Outback camping, Fijian diving, and a whole lot more. It was epic and I feel like I can say that I have truly lived because of this journey.
What does it mean to you to have the Santa Barbara International Film Festival screen your film?
Daize: Are you kidding? Santa Barbara is awesome and the perfect place to show Given. We are nestled among some pretty heavy hitters after Sundance and before the Oscars and have welcomed her very warmly! And we are premiering in the Lobero!!!
Any new projects you’re working on?
Jess: I have some ideas that I would like to expand now that I have time. I would like to make a film with a script haha! Since this project took 5 years of my life,I would like to share my values â€‹â€‹and translate them into a positive message. I want to tell inspiring stories. At a time when cinema is so dark and violent, I would like to be part of the few that bring hope. Some movies have changed my life. I would like to do the same.
Daize: We have been working on a non profit called the new team that helps to save unwanted bees and rehouse them.
Also Home school now is an amazing project we’ve started. We give teachers a platform to teach small classrooms and get paid what they should be receiving. The kids are able to thrive in this environment with most of the educating happening outside!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Jess: If there is one thing I have learned, it is everything always seems to work out.” Don’t stress out. Keep calm and figure it out. Laugh when things go wrong.
Aamion: This world is a good place. People are still kind. There are still places that are beyond beautiful. And it’s so important to experience that if you can. We can all live in so much fear but if you get out and just go, you’ll see that it’s not like it is on the news.
~ SBIFF movie Spotlight: Oscar Flores, Feb 3rd 2017