Switchfoot is the band that got me into music. More than anyone else in music, the San Diego surfers helped me understand the potential for music to not only be entertaining, but to move me and make me think about life, God, and the meaning of it all. The band has now released their first feature film, entitled Fading West, which chronicles their 2012 world tour. Part surf film, part documentary, and part making-of film for the new album of the same name, Fading West is masterfully made and offers an inside look at who Switchfoot is as well as profound insight on the sacrifices involved in being a band of their caliber.
As I said, the sheer quality of Fading West is simply incredible. It’s abundantly clear that the film crew put in hard work day in and day out during this tour, and it shows. The surf scenes in particular are stunning, giving viewers amazing snapshots of the guys surfing the oceans of South Africa, Bali, Australia, and New Zealand. Meanwhile, the crew also managed to capture many personal moments of interaction among the band members that I never would have expected to see in a movie. The soundtrack is also fantastic, featuring songs from the upcoming Fading West album that fit the exotic surf vibe of the film perfectly.
It’s the personal moments, though, that give the film its heart. At one point, Tim Foreman (bass) relates to his brother, Jon Foreman (vocals, guitar) how hard it sometimes is for him to be away from his family and missing moments of joy and pain in their lives. Jon’s daughter also had to have emergency surgery while he was halfway around the world, and the film shows the band supporting and encouraging him like brothers do, helping affirm for Jon that sacrificing his presence for a portion of the tour was absolutely necessary so he could go home. Meanwhile, there are also plenty of humorous and lighthearted moments, especially as Drew Shirley (guitar) and Jerome Fontamillas (keys), who aren’t into surfing as much as the Foreman brothers and Chad Butler (drums), sometimes spend their days on tour roaming the streets of the various locales. To be fair, though, all the guys in the band are just so genuinely funny that they constantly keep things entertaining all throughout the film. In all of this, the message is clear: Switchfoot is a genuine band of brothers who give so much of themselves for people, and it shows from start to finish in Fading West.
The film also gives an insightful look at what it’s like to be in a band and the sacrifices involved. The aforementioned situations and conversations are especially revealing, as are the scenes that show the band leaving their families when they’re about to leave for tour. It was truly inspiring to see how the all the band members are determined to be good husbands and fathers, so that makes the struggles of it all especially poignant for the viewer. In a very profound way, the film asks if it really is worth the sacrifice to make music and take it on the road. As the band continues to write songs of hope and meaning and to give so much of themselves for people, the conclusion is that the sacrifice is hard, but worth it, and the film portrays that very well.
I do have one issue with this otherwise excellent film. It’s awesome to see how the band seeks to help people and inspire hope through their songs, but all of this naturally begs the question- what, or who, is the object of their hope? Switchfoot is a band of Christians, people who have trusted in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross for salvation from their sin, and while discerning viewers can tell that the guys are indeed Christians, all their references to God and concepts like hope come off as rather vague and therefore probably unhelpful to people who need to know the truth. It’s nothing new for Switchfoot to avoid explicit proclamations of the gospel, but when there are situations in the film that offer the guys an easy platform for letting people know where their hope is found, their responses tend to be vague and unclear, leaving viewers with more abstract ideas than concrete answers about these very important matters.
Overall, though, Fading West is simply a fantastic film. As a Switchfoot fan I was thrilled with it, and even my friend who went to the show/screening with Jake and me who isn’t much into Switchfoot enjoyed it. The quality of the film is undeniable, and there are still so many other great moments I haven’t discussed in this review, like the band’s time with a South African children’s choir and appearances from pro surfers like Rob Machado and Tom Curran, for example. So if you’re even remotely interested in this genuine and just plain awesome rock band, don’t hesitate to watch Fading West.