Surf's up at Port Theater

December 04, 1999

Alex Coolman

CORONA DEL MAR -- The Port Theater, which has sat empty and unused for

more than a year, will look a lot livelier this evening when the premiere

of the surf movie "The Experience" brings some life back to its screen.

The 8 p.m. showing, which is being presented by the O'Neill wetsuit and

clothing company in conjunction with openings for the film in 13 cities

across America, is expected to sell out the 930-seat venue.


Scott Burnham, who owns the 48-year-old theater, explained that he has

been reluctant to rent the space out for events since the Port's closure.

But the O'Neill movie was one he felt was right for the theater and the


"It's good, clean fun," Burnham said. "It's not going to offend anybody.

It's the type of film that our community, being a beach community, can

really embrace."

Burnham was hesitant to speculate on whether the screening might lead to

more events like it at the Port.

"I wouldn't say that it's going to be the beginning," Burnham said. "This

just happened to be a circumstance where all the circumstances were


The theater closed last August after the Landmark Theatre Corp. decided

not to renew its lease on the space.

At some point in the future, Burnham said, he hopes to use the space in a

way that will "integrate a theater into the overall scheme," but his

specific plans are undecided.

"Since its closure, it's been in constant discussion with a number of

different situations," Burnham said.

"The Experience," the first movie O'Neill has produced in five years,

features some of O'Neill's most famous surfers, including Shane Beschen,

Cory Lopez, Rochelle Ballard and Laguna Beach surf/skate crossover guru

Bill Bryan.

The large-scale premiere is unusual in the surf movie business, where

many films are released directly to video.

Joey Santley, spokesman for O'Neill, explained that the company hoped the

big-screen experience of the theatrical premiere would give the film the

punch usually lacking from the straight-to-video experience.

"We want people to get a big impact," he said.

The Port, in particular, seemed to be a good choice for the debut because

it was the site of many screenings in the old days of surf movies.

"I saw [the classic '70s surf film] 'Five Summer Stories' there," Santley

said. "To me, the cultural and historical aspect of that theater are


Santley said he hoped the premiere would recreate some of the manic

enthusiasm that once attended surf movie screenings.

"I can't wait to see 13-year-old kids breaking in the back doors and

stuff," Santley said. "Twenty years ago, I was that kid."

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