‘Five Summer Stories’ hits theaters again, five decades later

Quiksilver co-founder Bob McKnight, Sam George and Greg MacGillivray talk during a Q&A on Wednesday at the New Port Theater.
Quiksilver co-founder Bob McKnight, Sam George and director Greg MacGillivray talk during a Q&A before a premiere of the digitally remastered classic surf documentary, “Five Summer Stories,” at the New Port Theater in Corona del Mar on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Greg MacGillivray was nervous when “Five Summer Stories,” the landmark surf documentary he produced with the late Jim Freeman, premiered in 1972.

It had epic slow-motion shots of big-time surfers like Gerry Lopez at the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii. But it also had a segment on skateboarding. And another on how surfers at the time were being exploited, at least in MacGillivray’s eyes, at professional events.

MacGillivray, a 1963 Newport Harbor High graduate and longtime resident of Laguna Beach, also wanted to make it reflect what was going on in the world. The film premiered, for example, on the heels of the first Earth Day, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We were at the point where we were trying to make all of our films conservation-based,” said MacGillivray, now 77. “Surfers live in the water. They have probably the most intimate connection with nature that you could possibly have, and we wanted to reflect that in the film.”

When the documentary premiered, MacGillivray said the reaction was 10 times bigger than he could have expected.

Now “Five Summer Stories” is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and Quiksilver is presenting a remastered version in more than 100 independent theaters nationwide.

Director Greg MacGillivray, right, laughs during a Q&A before a showing of "Five Summer Stories" on Wednesday night.
Quiksilver co-founder Bob McKnight, Sam George, and director Greg MacGillivray talk during Q&A before a showing of “Five Summer Stories” on Wednesday night.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

It showed at the New Port Theater in Corona del Mar on Wednesday night, and is scheduled to be shown locally at a private screening at the Regency South Coast Village on Aug. 23.

Tickets for the Aug. 23 show must be purchased on Eventbrite.

MacGillivray said it is special every time he watches the film, as it reminds him of his former business partner Freeman, who died in a helicopter accident in 1976. “Five Summer Stories” featured a score by Laguna Beach band Honk, which last week was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame.

Additionally, the Beach Boys let MacGillivray use their music for the film free of charge. At the time, the group was coming off the well-received 1971 album “Surf’s Up.”

“The film cast a wide net,” said MacGillivray, adding that the late Bud Browne provided much of the photography. “It wasn’t just for surfers. It was for any young person interested in activity and nature. Everyone considered it the best surfing film that they had seen, which was a complete surprise to us. We were making something that we believed in, but fortunately the audience believed in it too.”

MacGillivray and Freeman made the film as a farewell to surfing, before moving on to Hollywood film productions. MacGillivray would go on to become influential in the IMAX format; both “The Living Sea” in 1995 and “Dolphins” in 2000 were nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Short Subject category.

Wednesday night’s screening also featured a question-and-answer session with MacGillivray and Quiksilver co-founder and former chief executive Bob McKnight. It was moderated by former Surfer and Surfing magazine editor Sam George.

A question-and-answer is held before Wednesday night's screening of "Five Summer Stories" in Corona del Mar.
A question-and-answer is held before Wednesday night’s screening of “Five Summer Stories” in Corona del Mar.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

George said that for his money, “The Endless Summer” and “Five Summer Stories” are the two best surfing films. He remembers seeing the latter film for the first time in San Francisco in 1973, and being stunned.

“It was like nothing we’d ever seen before, and I mean that literally,” he said. “The quality of the cinematography, the story themes that it presented, the music, with an actual score that was written for the film … It really made us look at what we did and who we were differently. We’d never seen our collective tribe presented this way. It changed the perspective of the surfers that watched it, let alone the ones that participated in it.”

McKnight, too, hopes that a new generation of surfers will be inspired by the 50th anniversary re-release of the documentary.

Growing up in Pasadena, he said he first got smitten with surfing in 1963. He rented the surf film “Evolution” to show at San Marino High.

“I had signed a contract and was under orders to only show it once, because it was in these big reels,” he said, before smiling. “Of course, we watched it like 50 times.”

McKnight would later see “Five Summer Stories” for the first time in Laguna Beach.

“Watching Gerry Lopez pull those barrels in slow motion to a Honk soundtrack is just something that I will never forget,” he said. “My takeaway from this movie, this film is that all of us have been subject to surf culture. We don’t realize the influence we have over fashion and print and music and language. I mean, who says ‘Hey dude’ and just throws a Shaka? There’s so many things that have come from our world that form a huge industry, globally, generationally, and that makes me really proud.”

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8:55 a.m. Aug. 16, 2022: This story was updated with additional information about the Aug. 23 private screening in Costa Mesa.