Surfing to Survive: The Tribes of Palos Verdes

Not your typical surfer movie, The Tribes of Palos Verdes, which celebrates its world premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival, explores life’s darker undercurrents.
The Tribes of Palos Verdes

By Jim Servin

The location and time of year couldn’t be more perfect for the world premiere of the surf-centric The Tribes of Palos Verdes on October 6 at the Hamptons International Film Festival, says Tribes producer Robbie Brenner. “With the arrival of fall, the Hamptons gets colder, a little more stark. This movie, while it’s so beautiful, is complicated and complex,” notes Brenner, who spent every summer growing up in East Hampton before making a name for herself in Hollywood producing successful films such as Dallas Buyers Club. “The Hamptons International Film Festival is a great venue for The Tribes of Palos Verdes, because it’s a very intimate festival, and this is an intimate, powerful, provocative film.”

Maika Monroe in The Tribes of Palos Verdes

A coming-of-age story about a beautiful, introverted teenage misfit who copes with nearly insurmountable family strife—neurotic, self-centered parents; a drug-addicted brother—by finding solace in the California surf, The Tribes of Palos Verdes, based on the 1998 novel by Joy Nicholson, is a testament to the athletic prowess of star Maika Monroe, a pro kitesurfer who finessed the down-and-dirty shoot, in which a 150-page script was filmed in a breathtaking 21 days. “I love the idea that this character, Medina, is able to survive in the ocean, one of the roughest places there is,” says scriptwriter Karen Croner. “She has a drive to master the waves, and shows strength amidst all this crazy adversity.”

The Tribes of Palos Verdes

While directors Emmett and Brendan Malloy have surfing in their bloodlines and professional DNA—Emmett made his debut with the surf film Thicker Than Water, and cousins Chris, Keith and Dan are stars in the pro-surfing world—they wanted to infuse what could have been a glossy sport spectacle with character-driven depth. “We were excited to tell a story in the surf space, but we didn’t want to make this a surf movie,” says Emmett. “We wanted to make a movie like Ordinary People or The Ice Storm.”

Their creative muscles satisfyingly flexed, the Malloys continue to heed the call of the surf—the premiere of The Tribes of Palos Verdes will find its directors riding local waves the first chance they can get. “Brendan and I will run up to Montauk and surf there,” says Emmett. “A lot of our friends who live around there are surfers, and they’re all excited to see Tribes of Palos Verdes. I’m excited that the movie has the weight that it has. People are going to walk in expecting a surf movie. They’re going to get that, but in a very different way.”

The Tribes of Palos Verdes