Jason Baffa is the director of the now classic Singlefin: Yellow and the co-director of the film One California Day. His latest project Bella Vita, follows surfer Chris Del Moro to his birthplace in Italy, a country rich in craft and culture, and explores Del Moro’s bond with his Italian family and surfing friends (Lauren Hill, Dave Rastovich, Ale Ponzanelli).
What was the motivation or concept behind your new film, “Bella Vita”?
The origin of Bella Vita is a fun story. While doing the commercial work, I started getting the itch to do another film. Because Singlefin Yellow took 4 years and One California Day took another 4, I knew I couldn’t take the same amount of time. My wife and I had a baby boy exactly a year ago, so life had changed a bit. I wanted an idea that wouldn’t take as long and yet be beautiful and full of passion. I was traveling in Bali and ran into Chris Del Moro. Chris is a surfer, an environmentalist, and just a really cool person.
Tell us more…
He and I were both travelling and surfing and we both fell upon the truth that we both had fathers who were full-blooded Italian! He went on and told me stories about being born in Florence, Italy and growing up there for his early beginnings. When his parents split he started sharing his time between California and Italy. During that time he spent his time surfing and growing up with the early surf crew that has now blossomed in Italy. He told me he always thought it might make an interesting film idea and at that moment – I was sold. And there was a very selfish reason behind this project. It was the idea of spending 3 months in Italy, on a winery, eating spaghetti, drinking red wine, and getting some good surf.
It sounds like a wonderful idea. What were some of the challenges?
It took a year to plan it and we ran into the issue of raising enough money. And I understand that money is tight in this economy, so we kind of had to take a leap of faith. We knew we had to arrive in Italy around August at the end of the summer season to tell that part of the story, and then be there for fall for the waves to arrive in the Mediterranean.
Fortunately we found someone who had a winery. They told us, “If you get here, you will have a place to stay, and anyone in your crew can stay here, too.” Then our friends knew some people at Jeep. They thought what we were working on was cool, so they offered us 3 cars for free that we could use the whole time we were there.
And it got better. We met some people in Rome who rent camera equipment. They were surfers and they loved our previous movies. They gave us deals on rental equipment to help us make this movie. We had this huge outpouring of support from the Italians. That felt good. And because of their kind support, I just want to make them all proud.
What can we expect from Bella Vita?
First and foremost I hope the film is entertaining. It won’t matter if you are a weekend surfer, everyday surfer, or someone who might be unfortunately married to a surfer – our goal was simply to make a good movie. I took it as a challenge to make this different than my previous films. It was about going to Italy and make a documentary – a character study about Chris Del Moro – about him as a person and where he is from. It is also a story about surfers. He is a surfer and his friends are surfers. Through his journey home, we are going to learn about the history of Italian surfing and this unique, blossoming culture.
What did you learn from making Bella Vita?
That there is this wonderful juxtaposition of both old and new culture. For example, there is craftsman who makes knives that carries on the tradition for five generations. And there is the individual we interviewed who traveled to California to learn the art of shaping by the legendary Donald Takayama. He had to leave Italy to find a mentor who could teach him the craft so the he could succeed. It’s that kind of idea – the scope of craft and culture all within the confines of a road trip.
In this time of electronics and the internet we are all connected. But to me, the important thing is remembering the importance of where you are from and who you are and where you are going. It begs many questions such as: Where are your parents from and where are your grandparents from? What did they do for a living? How does that affect what you do now for a living? In my family, my grandfather made home movies. I think that is what led me to do what I do today. That is the big picture of the film. And it’s all painted against surfing, the waves, and the journey through Italy.
When can we expect to see the film?
We are on a really aggressive editing schedule and hope to have the movie completed by this summer. I would expect that we will be doing film festivals and première screenings in key markets and all the fun stuff we were able to enjoy with the other movies. As far as DVD and video downloads, I would expect by the end of the year – into the fall and the holiday season.