Chronicling the odd adventurous life of the Paskowtiz family, led by Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, Doug Pray’s new documentary, Surfwise, is an hour and a half of engaging, memorable footage. With the glut of documentaries that have been hitting the market lately, due to the recent upsurge in the genre’s popularity, these endeavors can be hit or miss, but Surfwise is a hit all the way, even if it is a bit uneven at times.
So, here’s the story, easier to read than to believe: Tired of his life as a doctor, Standford graduate Dorian Paskowitz removed himself from the system and took to the road with his agreeable wife Juliette. In the 1960s and ’70s, the couple brought forth nine children, count ‘em, nine, into their offbeat world, travelling around in a 24-foot camper and surfing at every out-of-the-way spot they could find. As the film opens director Doug Pray leads his audience to believe that what the Paskowitz’s had was the ideally perfect familial experience. Using interviews with all nine kids, as well as Paskowitz and his wife, the opening segment leads audiences down one path only to turn the tables a few minutes later. And this is where Pray’s skill as a documentarian comes out.
As the tables turn, we get to see the bitterness and resentment that some of the Paskowitz children have built up towards their father for subjecting them to his own dream life. The children may have been able to surf every day of their early lives, but they never attended school. One son discusses his own dream to be a doctor – before finding out that he would have to spend 10 years preparing before he could even apply. Slowly we’re let on to the idea that maybe this ideal way to live wasn’t exactly idyllic to everyone involved.
PresentingÂ the Paskowitz history with a mixture ofÂ surf-hungry envy and cautionary warning, Pray is able to avoid creating a simple one-note ode or an angry condemnation. Instead we’re given a realistic look at the positive and negative sides of a family, and a patriarch, that were separated from most of society for more than two decades. It’s the kind of documentary that reinvigorates interest in documentaries and reminds us why we’re interested in this type of film in the first place. In the end it goes a little askance by trying to take on the issue of obesity in America – comparing it to the Paskowitz “clean-living” diet. It’s clear that there was probably enough footage for a series of documentaries on this subject and the Pray’s ability to put it together into only 90 minutes is almost as impressive as the film itself.
Zach’s Rating: B
Perfect For: Anyone looking for a balanced look into a genuinely gypsy lifestyle
Stay Away if: You’ve had it up to your wetsuit with documentaries
For more information, including screening locations,visit the Surfwise homepage
To pre-order the DVD, visit Amazon