Review: Resurface (Izenberg & Padula, 2016)

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In one scene from the documentary short Resurface, Marine Corps veteran Bobby Lane empties a gallon-sized Ziploc of prescription drugs into a large porcelain candy bowl. If Lane hadn’t mentioned that they were pills, one might indeed have mistaken the brightly colored pieces for Easter M&Ms. And those are just his discarded medicines. Pills for seizures. Pills for anxiety. Pills to counteract the side effects of other pills. Pills whose purpose has been forgotten. Clearly Bobby needs something besides just another prescription.

Enter: surfing. What does surfing have to do with PTSD? Apparently everything. Bobby Lane says it saved his life. His wife, VA head doctors, and other experts agree.

Resurface introduces audiences to the concept of surf therapy–and with plenty of eye candy to boot. Amid gratifying slow motion shots of graceful rides and stunning aerial sweeps of the California coast, the documentary makes the case for surfing as an innovative and unusual antidote to trauma’s negative effects. Organizations such as Operation Surf and the Jimmy Miller Foundation, which teach veterans how to surf, pick up where talk therapy and pharmaceuticals leave off, bringing vets out into the ocean to lose (and find) themselves in the waves.

Though the film provides plenty of expert testimony as to the effectiveness of ocean therapy, it is the stories from the veterans themselves that are most powerful. With a staggering 22 veterans a day committing suicide, Bobby’s wife Liz’s observation that, without surfing, her husband would have become just another statistic takes on new meaning. The documentary delivers up plenty of other such poignant remarks (and images, too)–not only from Bobby and Liz but also from a British ex-soldier missing part of an arm and both legs and a Vietnam veteran still impacted from war half a century later. No less effective for its brevity, Resurface does all it can to reward us for our 20 minutes of attention.

If you’re local to the SF Bay Area, you can catch this eloquent advocate of surf therapy at the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival on Sunday, March 12. Buy your tickets now for program 12, showing at 4 pm. Otherwise, find the film at one of its other festival screenings, including at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival!

Full disclosure: I am friends with Resurface‘s producer and am a Kickstarter backer of the film.

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