When Andrew Kidman, director of “Spirit of Akasha,” asked his old friend and legendary shaper Simon Anderson what his thoughts were on tackling a new version of the cult surf classic “Morning of the Earth,” Simon was typically no nonsense. "Well I think you'd be a f@##ing idiot."
Kidman was thinking along the same lines when he was first approached. "My initial reaction was no way in the world,” Kidman said hours before the film had its world premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain. "That film is a sacred thing and like a lot of people I love it and didn't want to be a part of turning it in to something that it shouldn't be."
The original film, made by Albert Falzon, does inspire a large amount of passion and idealism, documenting perfectly a time at the start of the ’70s when surfing offered a real alternative lifestyle. The soundtrack has also become legendary, and for more than 40 years now, surfers from all around the world have taken the movie, its message, and its songs to heart.
Chris Moss, the producer of “Spirit of Akasha,” felt the same. The lifelong surfer, former head of Warner Music Australia, and Manly surf shop owner, was approached by the new Australian Warner boss, Tony Harlow, who had the rights to the film, about a remake. "I didn't want to touch it. I kept looking for no’s," said Ross. "I told Tony, ‘You'd need three things: Alby Falzon's complete permission, Andrew Kidman as director, and for those two to have complete creative control.’ I was absolutely confident none of the three would happen."
And yet, somehow they did. Alby came on board, once his good friend Kidman was involved, and when Harlow guaranteed complete artistic freedom, an absolute rarity, they accepted. Three years of hard work later, an early edit of the film is being shown to a packed San Sebastian cinema, and the whoops, cheers, and emotional silences must be helping Kidman and Ross feel they had done well to overcome their initial fears.
Warner's involvement did bring some incredible musical talent to the project, either by doing covers of the original soundtrack or creating new pieces. Radiohead's Thom Yorke, The Dirty Three's Mick Harvey, MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden, Black Crow's Chris Robinson, Brian Wilson, Ben Howard, Xavier Rudd, and Angus Stone are just some of the acts that add some real, heavy atmospheric weight to the film, which is all shot in 35mm film.
"I was clear from the start, like ‘Morning of the Earth,’ there was not to be dialogue,” said Kidman. “It would be just music and that would tell the story. That was always the power of the original." The film is a series of vignettes; each tracks a different section with highlights including Steph Gilmore recreating the famous Michael Peterson, while other highlights include Jon Frank's footage of Cloudbreak, Mickey Smith's moody, dark, and mind-blowing treatment of Ireland, some insane underwater footage, and Mick Fanning and Tom Curren ripping on single fins made specially for the film.
Both Chris and Andrew were also at pains to explain that this is a very rough cut. The full premiere will be shown at the Sydney Opera House in January, complete with an added Bali section and a live soundtrack played by the artists.
However, whatever the outcome, Alby, Chris, Andrew, and Warner Music's Tony Harlow haven't diminished a great surf film, or the passion that it has inspired in surfers all around the world for 40 years. They have produced both a fitting tribute and a worthy celebration.