The Smiling Bag by Dion Agius

by Annie Kilburn

Article by Todd Prodanovich for Surfer Magazine, 08.11.16

Epøkhe co-founder Dion Agius has just finished a full-length surf film with stellar surfing, hypnotizing visual effects, and a soundtrack that will make your ears bleed in a good way. At this point, you’d think Agius would have posted it online, pumped it up on social media, and tried to capture as much of our ever-shrinking attention spans as possible. Instead, he’s going in a very different direction, engaging surf fans through premieres and sending physical copies of the film to anyone who drops him a line. It’s either very old school, or very new school, depending on your point of view. Either way, The Smiling Bag is well worth the slight effort that Agius is asking his audience to make.

So The Smiling Bag seems like it came out of nowhere. How long have you been working on this thing?

I’ve completely lost track. It feels like it’s been ten years in the making, but really it’s just the last two or three. It’s funny because when we’re working on film projects, we go on so many trips and get to work with so many amazing folks, but 90 percent of that footage never sees the light of day. The idea with The Smiling Bag was to take all this unused footage and make something interesting out of it. At first, I was just going to make an edit to give to everyone I did these trips with, just to remember those times and how much fun it’s been. But then I just kept working on it and it kind of became a bigger thing.

With some of the animation and the visual effects, the movie feels more like an art project than a typical surf video.

Yeah, I guess that came from me not really knowing what I was doing, just messing around and taking a lot of time experimenting with a bunch of different effects. The whole film was a learning curve, figuring out what I could do. I’ve loved editing since I was a kid and this felt like I was relearning that whole process. It’s been really fun experimenting and having that creative outlet. Some of the film is pretty weird and I’ve changed it about 100 times, but I’d probably never be totally happy with it, so I just had to call it finished at some point.

There’s one section that’s intertwined with what looks like a psychedelic Rorschach test. Did you do that yourself?

Yeah, I started teaching myself to do some animation, just running certain imagery through all these after effects to get it to an interesting point. I started by building patterns and still images in Photoshop and giving it motion in Adobe Premiere. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I just kept fucking around until I figured it out. I really like that stuff. It felt fun to make something out of absolutely nothing with those digital animations, although I’m sure I did it in the slowest, most backwards way possible [Laughs].

So what’s really interesting to me is that you made this fantastic surf movie, but you’re not just blasting it out through the typical channels. How are you showing people the movie?

You can only see it by coming to one of the premieres, or by emailing me, and then I’ll send you the movie on a USB drive with a zine, a poster, and some stickers. So you’ll get a nice little package that will be this cool thing you’ll hopefully want to keep. I really wanted to give it a bit more physicality as opposed to just throwing something up on the web, where people only have about a two-minute attention span. I also thought that making it so people had to try just a little bit to see it, it would feel more special than just blasting it out to be embedded everywhere. And emailing with people who want to check out the movie has probably been the most rewarding part. I’ve gotten messages from all these rad kids from all over the world, telling me their stories. There was one kid from Chicago who surfs on a lake, and another kid who can’t surf right now because he’s in the hospital, and connecting with kids like that has been so cool. I’ve probably had about a thousand conversations at this point, and just having those interactions has been so rad. And the same goes for the premieres; I started showing the movie in Europe, stopping in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London, and Barcelona, trying to connect with these little surf communities that don’t normally get a lot of surf premieres. Just meeting all these people from different surf cultures has been the coolest thing ever. That’s so much more rewarding than getting 20,000 views on Vimeo or something. But if someone can’t make it to a premiere, I’m happy to send them the film.