Featured Filmmaker: Jon Long, Director, Producer, and Screenwriter of THE SEARCH FOR FREEDOM

Legendary waterman Robbie Naish and Director Jon Long

Legendary ocean pioneer Robby Naish and Director Jon Long

What makes you feel most alive?

Next up on the Featured Filmmakers blog series, we have Jon Long, the director, producer, and screenwriter of documentary THE SEARCH FOR FREEDOM, which will have its Hawai‘i premiere tonight at Celestial Cinema at 7:45pm. Jon, his team, and several of his cast members will introduce their film tonight from the stage – a moment not to be missed!

THE SEARCH FOR FREEDOM film is unique in the “action sports” genre, because it really dives into the human stories and psychological mindset of these pioneers of human physicality, passion, and spirit unlike any other film before it. It’s truly

Here’s a brand new trailer – just released! – to psych you up for an incredible experience tonight at Celestial Cinema! See you there!

1. How did your film come to be? How did you get involved in making it? Where and when did you start?

When I first conceived the movie, it was to tell a story about a cultural phenomenon. The action sports movement came from humble beginnings and has become a way of life for so many.  I hadn’t initially planned on pursuing the theme of freedom in this film until I had already interviewed dozens of people. The concept of freedom kept coming up again and again with so many of them that I wanted to look deeper into what that really meant. I started making action sport movies in the late 1980s, when only a handful of people were doing it. Our little tribe was following in the footsteps of the great pioneer filmmakers like Warren Miller and Bruce Brown. I made action sport films for about 10 years before making the film IMAX Extreme, which led my to making this film. I started doing interviews for this film about 10 years ago. I put it on the shelf for a long time because I didn’t have the resources to finish it. Two years ago I was able to get Universal and some other people involved and it all came together pretty quick once we got the “green light”.

2. What was the most challenging thing about making this film? About filmmaking in general?

I have found that one of the most challenging things about creating independent film is getting the resources to do it. You have to endure a lot of “no’s” before you can gather the few yes’s it takes to make it all happen. You need to be persistent, obsessive and believe in your vision. In my case, I did a lot of work, almost 3 years, without any outside resources, and I don’t know if this film would have been made if I didn’t lay that groundwork. Definitely, it s a labour of love and I think that is something filmmakers have in common.

3. What type of experience or message do you hope the film will bring to viewers?

With this film, I really wanted to try and create an immersive, visceral experience, where the audience can actually inhabit those magical moments like gliding along a glassy green wave, even if they’ve never tried any of these sports. I wanted to capture the inherent beauty and stillness of mind that comes even when you are moving fast and the adrenalin is pumping. What come across in the film is that it really doesn’t matter what level you are at – the feelings are equally powerful whether its your first wave or you’ve been surfing your whole life. I hope audiences will reflect on their own experiences that bring them happiness from doing what they are passionate about. There are so many ways to live in the moment and do what makes you feel happy and alive. Action sports are a really powerful metaphor for that. So I hope this film makes people reflect and feel good.

4. How do film festivals play a role in the release and promotion of a film? What do you most look forward to about film festivals?

Festivals are absolutely key to the promotion and release of a film. The most important thing for a filmmaker is for audiences to see their films and festivals provide that opportunity for the filmmaker to have a direct connection to audiences in a wonderful environment created by people who care.  For me, the finished product is not my film, it is the feeling and thoughts that people have when they experience the film. So the thing I look the most forward to about film festivals is the audience reaction. And if they like what they see, I’ll feel good. If they don’t, I’ll learn some good lessons. Its a win/win proposition.

5. Describe your connection to Maui if you’ve got one?  If you’ve never been to Maui, what are you most looking forward to about your trip to the festival?

My connection to Maui is nature.The forces of here are so powerful. I filmed part of The Search for Freedom, Imax Extreme and some other films in Maui. I always love working with Robby Naish. He truly is one of a kind athlete and human being. And on this film we also worked with Maui’s Kai Lenny, who is one of the most respected watermen in the world and a force of life!  I’ve lived my life in the mountains and, more and more, I feel the pull of the ocean. I just started surfing in the past few years, and that experience was very influential in shaping The Search for Freedom. So while I’m in Maui I’m looking forward to jumping in the ocean and watching some great films. Barry Rivers and his team create such an amazing atmosphere with this festival. And let’s face it, what better place than Maui…..


The Featured Filmmaker series is coordinated and written by the Maui Film Festival’s Filmmaker Liaison and Social Media Director Sara Tekula. Click here to see all of the Featured FIlmmaker posts and be sure follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to get live updates from the festival.