“Shelter” Premieres at La Paloma

There was the biggest crowd I’d ever seen at La Paloma last night for the premiere of “Shelter,” Taylor Steele and Chris Malloy’s latest co-op project. The crowd was so big, in fact, that they had to put on third showing of the movie to accommodate all the heads.

“We haven’t had a premiere like this in a long time,” said Poor Specimen Sales Manager Nino Camillo, who was on hand last night selling “Shelter” T-shirts and taking down names of those who wanted to get their own copy of the movie.

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Nearly 1,000 people came for all three shows. At the 9:00 showing it was pure madness. The line to get in snaked down PCH past Martini Ranch and curved up D Street. Even the guys who were IN the movie had trouble getting in until Poor Specimen’s Sam Yago came to the rescue.

Once you got in you were lucky to get a seat. Camillo was so busy selling T-shirts that he had to watch the movie from the balcony — standing up. There were people sitting in the aisles, people sitting in FRONT of the front-row seats. It was like Britney Spears was gonna show up or something.

So what was all the hype about? It goes back about 80 years and halfway around the world to a farmhouse in Byron Bay. That’s where Malloy and a dozen buddies hung out for a month this winter to take, er …, shelter.

At the farmhouse, nothing went down — and that was the point. There were no contests, no autograph sessions, no parties. It was just Chris and the boys, chilling, surfing, playing stickball, and swapping stories.

“This is my chance to share with everyone what I’ve experience with them,” said Malloy, who himself grew up on a farm. “These kids didn’t grow up in limos and five-star hotels like the magazines portray. These kids grew up in little towns and little houses. I just wanted to give them a chance to be themselves and talk a little bit about what’s close to them and what they went through to get where they’re at.”

And there are some amazing and touching stories that rise to the top in this artsy film. You could feel the fear in Shane Dorian’s voice when he talked about the two kids who put a revolver to his head for his surfboard. “It made me realize that my life meant nothing to them,” he said.

Rob Machado talked about the death of Mick Fanning’s brother. Instead of getting in the car after a party with his brother, Fanning opted to walk home. He never saw his brother alive again. Machado says he sees that experience come through in Fanning’s surfing.

Malloy’s cousin Britt Caillouette, an avid surfer, recently lost his left leg to cancer. In the movie he ditches his crutches and surfs for the first time since he conquered the disease. As Camillo puts it: “People left last night not just amped to go surfing, but also more interested in looking at their life and evaluating what it means.”

The surfing itself is a step back, a reflection of the mood in “Shelter.” There are some incredible barrel sequences and flippy airs, but there’s also a lot of nose riding (Joel Tudor), cruising — even Pascal Stansfield tries his luck surfing a door (Yes, a door).

If this is sounding a little too existential, too trippy, too pro-surfers-just-trying-to-be-deep, get over it. It’s not. The film feels honest, and you could tell that these pros put a lot of trust into Malloy and Steele with their stories. And they handled it beautifully.

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If you missed last night’s premiere you’ve still got another shot. The next showing is tomorrow night at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. Doors open at 7:00; movie shows at 8:30. Get there early — it will sell out. In fact, Camillo says a lot of people who saw it last night have already told him their going to see it again.

If you can’t make it (or don’t get tickets) you can get your own copy of “Shelter” beginning September 4 at poorspecimen.com. The DVD version will be available September 18. For info on “Shelter” — and to see premiere dates — check out shelter2001.com.

* * *ED’s note: Will someone step up and get La Paloma a new projector?!