Big Surf
By Brian Smee, 2017

"Big Surf" by Brian Smee (2017), California Institute of the Arts

San Francisquito Cyn, March 12th, 1928: The sound a horse makes as it's drowning. Minutes before midnight, the St. Francis Dam fails. It takes five and a half hours for the dam water to wash out to sea, taking with it hundreds of souls.

picture and direction by Brian Smee

sound by Annapurna Kumar

painting and text by Isabelle Aspin

prayers by Therese Cleary

sound mixing by Craig Smith

translation by Patricia Luna

narration by Charles F. Outland, excerpted from "Man-Made Disaster" courtesy of SCV Historical Society


2017: GLAS / Mammoth Lakes Film Festival / CalArts Ex Anim Showcase / Denver Film Festival / Malt Adult #5 / San Diego Underground Film Festival / Ottawa International Animation Festival / Animasivo

2018: Edge of Frame weekend at LIAF / Slamdance / EofF at Flatpack Film Festival

Brian Smee is a filmmaker from Arizona now based in Los Angeles. He received his BFA from CalArts and now freelances as a director and animator. About "Big Surf," he writes:

I was working on another idea for a movie when this one started to take over and become my primary focus. As I was starting to write the other idea, an instructor off-handedly mentioned some of the landmarks of the SCV. In this, he mentioned the St. Francis Dam disaster. I had lived in the area for three years and had not heard of this before. From that point onward, I started researching what I could find and visiting San Francisquito Canyon.

Visually I was very much inspired by the newsreel footage from the time period but more so by Prince, Charlotte Pryce and Paul Glabicki. At the start of making this movie, I was taking a hand-processing film class with Pryce. One of the first assignments, my partner Isabelle Aspin and I went out to the dam site and photographed the mountains and parts of the monument near the site. The footage I developed from that session began influencing what the animation would look like.

I hope this film captures some of the feeling you get when you walk through the parts of the canyon that were once filled with water.



John Hutchens


Black Francis


Katy Moffatt


John Bergstrom

Ron Pinkerton

Dan Devere


Film: "Big Surf" by Brian Smee 2017

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