Martyn Robertson • Director of Ride the Wave
“You see Ben's parents in their most vulnerable state”
by Kaleem Aftab
- The Scottish filmmaker unpicks his documentary, which, while ostensibly a surf movie, is also a coming-of-age tale about 14-year-old Ben Larg
Scottish director Martyn Robertson’s Ride the Wave [+see also:
interview: Martyn Robertson
film profile] is a documentary about 14-year-old Ben Larg, who, at the age of 12, was Scotland’s under-18 surfing champion. While ostensibly this is a surf movie, it is also a coming-of-age tale that sees Ben pulled out of school after he’s bullied, and then shows him starting to take an interest in girls. This is all offset by the growing sense of apprehension that his parents have as Ben tackles bigger waves. Ride the Wave is Roberston’s feature-length documentary debut.
Cineuropa: How did you first find out about Ben?
Martyn Robertson: I've known Ben's family for a number of years, having travelled to Tiree while I was growing up – that kind of remote island that they live on, in the Hebrides of Scotland. I lost touch a little bit with them, but I'd followed the media reports on how successful young Ben had been at surfing. So I phoned Marty, his dad, about five years ago, and he was on a beach in Fuerteventura watching Ben surf a ten-foot wave, and I think Ben at that point would have been 11 years old. I said, “Look, I'm quite interested in following this story.”
When did it expand into being a story that was more than just about a young surf prodigy?
I was sitting watching lots of surf movies, and I thought the one problem with the surf movies out there is that they all feel quite alike. They're cool and great to watch, but I always feel they need more of a narrative. I was searching for Ben's narrative, and of course, it was right in front of me on his home island, off the west coast of Scotland, where Ben doesn't really fit in as a kid. And that is strange because Ben is the coolest kid in town: he looks like a classic California surfer dude, but he's Scottish.
The documentary plays on this idea of parents living out their own dreams through their kids. How did that come about?
I think we see that in the first half of the film, with the classic dad scenes on the beach, and the frustration of being a parent and perhaps your kid not really realising the opportunity they have in front of them. His parents are competent surfers, but Ben has a much bigger set of balls than they do. Some of the world's top surfers have commented on Ben's nerve going into big waves. You see that throughout the film, and you wonder what's going through the dad's head.
And as Ben gets better, you see Marty wondering more and more about whether pushing Ben this way was a good decision, given the perils.
Absolutely. It's interesting because during the filming process, my wife became pregnant, and I was starting to contemplate fatherhood. Then, during the last year of production, we had our first child. I became really interested in what was going on in Marty's head. Actually, Marty was terrified of everything. He was always working out where the nearest hospital was, how to get there and how long it would take. You see Ben's parents in their most vulnerable state, and I think that's what happens when your child turns around and says they want to take that hobby you've introduced to them to the extreme and put their life in danger.
You shot the film over three years. How did you finance it?
Screen Scotland solely financed the film. The other part of the finance package has largely been goodwill and good spirit from the people in the industry here in Scotland. We had a huge amount of support from Met Films in London. We had Hopscotch Films as well. And they were massively influential in just encouraging me to be ambitious, alongside the Scottish Documentary Institute, which encouraged me to get around the world to these festivals and network. This being my first feature-length doc was a real learning curve.
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