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Searching for the White Rhino

After toiling over the final edit for two years, White Rhino, the documentary that takes you to some of the biggest surf ever seen, has surfaced.

The film first started out as a short film highlighting photographer / surfer Brian Bielmann’s greatest shots, but as St. Catharines’ documentarian (and wedding photo/videographer) Brent Storm and Bielmann started unpacking the interviews they shot, and all the footage they had received, they realized they had a much bigger story to tell.

“I had left Niagara to go snowboarding out in Park City, Utah, in my early 20s. But, I broke my hip when I was 24 and that kind of kept me off the mountain for a while,” recalled Storm.

“That’s when I just kind of fell in love with surfing. So I moved out to Hawaii for four years. That was when I first met Brian, in a surf club.”

Bielmann is a hero in the surfing industry. His photography has been printed on over 150 magazine covers and in 30 books. His images have been in Rolling Stone, Men’s Journal, National Geographic and Sports Illustrated. His website even has photography dating back to 1970.

Storm explained that he began talking with the prolific photographer about collaborating on an Instagram project, and suggested that they make the project bigger than just for social media.

“So, we set up some interviews and they were really candid and ridiculous that I was like ‘Dude, if we put this on Instagram it would be a waste.’ So we just kept getting more and more content,” said Storm.

It was then that the film’s plot surfaced. They wanted to tell the story of the biggest waves ever produced in the South Pacific, near Fiji and Tahiti throughout 2011/12. The surfing world hasn’t seen anything like it since.

The synopsis reads: “A parallel story from the big wave surfers and photographers who witnessed the largest surf ever seen. This story is based on one photographer’s journey to capture the wave of a lifetime. In pursuit, three epic swells hit the South Pacific shorelines, providing conditions only madmen could dream of. Hear the story behind these historical days from the men themselves who dared to challenge the ‘White Rhino.'”

Surfers drove in flocks for the epic 50-foot waves, and many of them offered up interviews and stories and archive footage from the events.

“We kind of created the film to parallel the story from the photographers point of view to the surfers point of view and what it was like for them to be in the water to get to these crazy locations, and then there’s the massive waves and you see them wipe out and whatever. So, everything is kind of intertwined between the whole film.”

Storm further explained that Bielmann was the ideal subject for his first feature length documentary project. White Rhino was produced on a shoe-string budget – $0 and a few years of love and effort. The final effort is a tremendous accomplishment, all due to happenstance friendship, hard work, connections and collaboration through storytelling.

“He’s one of the coolest, most genuine laid back people I’ve ever met,” said Storm. “He just kind of cruises through life and it works out for him really well. But, he’s always doing things for all these surfers, and he was able to call in all his favours and the response was amazing.”

White Rhino has been selected for over 40 film festivals around the world and screens in part of the Great Lakes Surf Film Festival on June 15 at the Warehouse. Theatre Crisp close out the night.

Written by Chris Illich

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