If you want to chase the winter doldrums away, come to the Borgata for a night of cinema and music, 8 to 11 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16 at Premier Nightclub. The evening features a new short surfing film by South Jersey’s own filmmakers, Andrew Gesler and Alex DePhillipo, as well as music by the band Pepper.
The event marks the 10-year anniversary release of the filmmakers’ award-winning documentary Dark Fall, which chronicles the life of pro surfers at the Jersey Shore.
Gesler and DePhillipo are home-grown Jersey Shore surfers. Gesler grew up in Ocean City, and DePhillipo in Margate. Both are passionate about the sport and met each other through the surfing community — a small, tightly knit group of male and female athletes who share a love of the ocean and surfing.
But local surfers often get overlooked on the pro circuit, says Gesler. Because they don’t routinely chase monster waves, Jersey Shore surfers are stereotyped as less skilled than those who crest 40- to 50-foot swells.
Dark Fall erased those myths.
“We needed to get the story out and get rid of the stereotypes,” says Gesler, who was approached by filmmaker DePhillipo 12 years ago to create Dark Fall. “There’s a group of brothers and sisters out there every morning who really have talent and excel and never get the spotlight. A lot of people are unaware of their abilities.”
The film took two years to make because the duo faced challenges. To start, they didn’t have a script. So the story — surfing in New Jersey and the adversity it takes to follow a dream in one of the sport’s more obscure locations — was fluid. Little, if anything, was mapped out when the two started filming. That prolonged the shooting process.
“The struggle was not knowing what was next,” Gesler recalls. “We had to fly by the seat.”
Nevertheless, the movie took shape. The two interviewed fellow surfers, shot ocean swells and captured the spirit of surfing at the Jersey Shore. “It all just became itself,” says Gesler. “What came out of this passion project was special and it was special to the people of New Jersey.”
The film premiered at a festival in Atlantic City and made the film circuit, garnering awards at the prestigious New York Surf Film Festival. Among accolades at that festival, the film won best feature and viewers’ choice. The movie went on to earn other awards at various festivals around the world.
Even though the movie is 10 years old, Dark Fall can still be seen on different streaming platforms. “We’re super grateful to put out something that turned into a classic film that still resonates with people today,” says DePhillipo. “We were kids, putting our vision out there. It was a representation of what we love — surfing and filming.”
The new short, which will be showcased at Premier, is an “ode to Dark Fall,” notes DePhillipo. Much of the footage is shot in winter; the process of getting that footage alone is a feat of will, strength and perseverance.
“Being from here and working with all the elements, especially the cold water in winter, separates us from the average surfer and filmmaker,” DePhillipo says.