Josh Landan, a 28-year-old Ventura resident, wants his new film, Against the Grain, to make you cry. It is based on the life of Tara Dakides, one of the world’s most famous female snowboarders. The film chronicles the emotional rocket ship Tara has been for most of her life, hanging on as best she can, coping with her pain the only way she could.
"With everything Tara went through and is still going through, the thing is just to inspire people," Landan said.
Landan just won Documentary of the Year award at the X-Dance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where he was also nominated for Director of the Year and Film of the Year.
Now, Against the Grain is an official selection in this year’s star-studded Santa Barbara Film Festival.
Not bad for a young man who has been making movies strictly by instinct. Landan said he has no formal training in filmmaking whatsoever. He started out with a surf movie called Flow.
"I made that film and we went to a bunch of film festivals, and were lucky enough to win some awards," Landan said.
As a surfer who attended Ventura College, Landan used to love watching surf movies, but felt something more could be injected into the genre.
"There wasn’t really any substance to those movies," he said. "I became interested in [telling stories] about the people I know in action sports."
But Landan was not aware of Dakides’ enormous fame in the snowboarding world. He just knew her as his friend and famous surfer Taylor Knox’s girlfriend. After going as a group to the premiere of Flow at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara, Landan said Dakides was impressed with his filmmaking skill.
"She told me her whole life story, which is unbelievable to say the least, and I agreed to make a movie on her life," Landan said. "It is the first time she has ever said anything about her childhood and what happened to her."
Landan said he is more interested in telling an emotional story about an extreme sports star’s background than in listing their official accomplishments.
Dakides’ life, which has been one of extremes, is adroitly captured by Landan. His interviews with Dakides reveal a woman who is still as out-of-control as she was in her early teens. Although she displayed astonishing resilience in repairing her broken body following her maniacal quest to perform the most extreme stunts, Landan places it in the context of the inevitable danger-seeking attitude of a teenager swept up in full-armor rebellion. This is a portrait of a woman in pain.
As a young adult, Dakides accelerated her relentless path of pushing all physical limits of a human tethered to earth by the forces of gravity as she smiled for the cover of Sports Illustrated and fielded lucrative offers from sports equipment manufacturers. The film provides a forum for Dakides’ cautious revelations of her deep emotional scars, which come cautiously into the light, as she talks about the effects of the disintegration of her family. Landan allows Dakides to lead the audience on her tortured journey at her own pace, never jumping to conclusions or injecting his own views into the tale. He interweaves original music, stills from her childhood and snappy bites from recent interviews to show the turmoil of her life.
Landan deftly shows the irony of fame, especially through his use of an original score by Andrew Smith. The narration is voiced by pop singer Pink, and Landan’s high production standards elevate a sports documentary to the level of biographical film.
Discussing the influence of other films, Landan zeroed in on Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights. "The music is like another character," Landan said. "I wanted Against the Grain to have that and be able to feel emotions from just images with music."
From the head-slamming opening montage on, Landan takes the audience into Dakides’ extreme worlds, of early wealth and privilege into the deepest pits of hopelessness. Landan said his goal was to guide the audience through Dakides’ reality.
"As a filmmaker," Landan said, "whenever you can inspire people and just take them away from their everyday life for the hour or two hours you have them in the theater, that’s better than any money you are going to make."
Against the Grain will screen at the Santa Barbara Film Festival on Jan. 27, at 9 p.m. at Victoria Hall in Santa Barbara. 33 W. Victoria St., Santa Barbara, 680-5210 (general information) or 730-1038 (box office).