Filmmaker Feature: Luca Merli

Surfing and Italy are not two things that you typically think of in the same sentence. Before Taylor Steele’s Sipping Jetstreams took at trip to Italy with Timmy Curren, Italy was simply a historic place in the history of our world that did not necessarily include any indication of wave riders. Since then, Luca Merli shot his 16mm film, Onda Nostre, giving a further insight into the surfing regions of this boot-shaped country in Europe. In this Filmmaker Feature, Luca uncovers some of the growing surf culture in the region as well as his take on filmmaking and more…

It is interesting to hear stories of how individuals get into surfing in a country not necessarily known for its surf. What sparked your interest to get out in the water? Do you remember your first board?

Well, I’ve always been fascinated by images of the California pioneer and surf culture has always had a great influence on my imagination. It was the image before the action…I don’t even live near the coast. I live in Milan, but I always had this strong drive towards the water element, probably the fact that my grandfather from Stromboli (a volcano island near Sicily) was a sailor man and all the stories from my grandmother were another element that made me feel at home near the sea.

When I was a kid in the seventies, I used to travel throughout Europe with my family during summer holidays and we had a long and bulky windsurfer. I used to go in the water in every place, most of the time without the sail. I enjoyed paddling and catching foam. Sometime in France or Spain, we came across some real surfers. I always thought that I wanted be part of it… However, the first time I went in the water with a proper surfboard was actually in the early nineties. After a few experiences in music, photography and the arts, I was in my late twenties, and a friend of mine from England left me an old 7’6″ board as I let him stay in my place for few months.

In what ways has the Italian surf culture evolved even from when you were a grom?

Back then not so many people where surfing in Italy and only few spots in Liguria and Tuscany where known. There where a few local heroes, but surfing has been really a niche activity for quite a long time. Nowadays, it’s getting really popular in the north of Italy, although in the south and in the islands there are still some amazing places to discover…

How did you get into filmmaking?

I got into filmmaking initially at high school, with some friends. For our final exam we did a small movie all in Super8. We were a group of good friends who did music and experimental films together. Of that group, a girl become a very well known editor who now works in Hollywood and London. Another friend become a famous graphic designer who designed the title sequence for some of the Harry Potter movie and myself who first got into photography and then I started doing music videos, then commercial and meanwhile started experimenting with surf movies…

Can you tell us a little about your film, Onde Nostre? What was the inspiration behind it?

Onde Nostre was conceived almost casually. One day I met Matteo Ferrari in the streets. He’s been a surfer for at least ten years more than me and is a good photographer. I asked him if he wanted to do a surf movie with me…he said: “Yeah let’s talk about it…”, and few days later we were in a bar talking about it. I had more experience in filmmaking and he had more experience in the surfing area. We had similar taste in terms of references and immediately we had clear in mind that we wanted to shoot it in 16mm. We didn’t actually write much of the story, we had a kind of documentary approach about it.

We started searching for funds and casted the surfers, most of them where already friends. We wanted to explore the different aspects of surfing in Italy and include both short and longboarders. The idea was to make a lifestyle documentary with a classic feeling and to show the beauty of this sport and the peculiarity of Italian surfing and coasts… First, we planned a surf a first trip to Sardinia as a start and then we went another time to Sardinia, Liguria and Toscana. We were quite lucky, we managed to film all the movie in three weeks… also because the budget allowed just that…

For those of us who cannot speak Italian, is there anything we should know prior to watching the film?

It’s quite important to catch all the dialogue to get the complete picture of Onde Nostre… Another thing to know and that makes me proud is that all the music of the film is made by Italian bands and musicians.

Which areas of Italy did you travel to in order to attain this footage? Looking back, was there any one place that stood out where all the elements fell into place just right?

Most of the footage was shot in Sardinia, mostly on the west coast. Some other parts where shot in Liguria and Tuscany. Sardinia is just an amazing island where swell are more consistent and the landscape is so breath taking and still wild.

While watching Onde Nostre, we are able to experience the beauty of Italy through scenes both in and out of the water. What equipment did you use to achieve this nostalgic feel?

We shot ninety percent of the movie in 16mm and Super8. Only little parts were shot with digital cameras. Film has a great capacity to give this timeless feeling that I love so much…I am much more into analogue. I like the imperfections, the light spills and the grain of film.

What were some of the difficulties you came across during the trip?

We had few travel accidents… On the first day of shooting in Liguria David Pecchi injured himself with some sharp rock under his feet then we had a great accident with one of the cars after few days we were in Sardinia and two of the surfers (Thomas Cravarezza and Lorenzo Castagna) had to go to hospital and had to wear a neck protection for few days, after that, again Thomas while skating injured himself on a shoulder…then few other minor accident, but in general the morale was high and we enjoyed ourselves a lot. The group is very tight and we had great fun together. Has been a great life experience…

What sorts of projects are you currently working on? And what are your plans for the future?

We are working on the new movie, I just received 5000 meters of film from Kodak which is going to be a partner for the next film. The idea is to release the movie in the summer of 2013 but meanwhile we will produce a dozen of web episodes about the making of some portraits of the surfers/shapers involved.

The next movie will be shot again in 16mm and Super8 and will continue what we started searching with Onde Nostre, there’s going to be more or less the same crew with some other surfers, maybe even some guest from other parts of the world, both long and short boarders, artists and friends. The idea is to travel south of Italy to discover some Mediterranean hidden secrets.