DECADES AFTER THE WHITMAN BROTHERS CONTRIBUTED TO AN OSCAR-WINNING DOCUMENTARY, A NEW FILM BASED ON MID-CENTURY FILM FOOTAGE CAPTURED BY DUDLEY WHITMAN AND THE LATE BILL WHITMAN EXPLORES LIFE IN HAWAII
BY RODOLFO ROMAN
Special to The Miami Herald
On his way home from Asia after serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, Dudley Whitman wrote in a small notebook several tasks he wanted to accomplish.
Whitman, a surfer, took notice that in the late 1940s underwater filming was in its infancy.
So, Whitman, who was 24 years old when he left the service, and brother Bill created an underwater camera case and ventured to Hawaii to film the island’s surfing culture. They also ended up capturing other aspects of the island way of life on film.
The end result: True Hawaii: Land of Surf and Sunshine, an adventure documentary.
The men are also the brothers of Miami Shores resident Stanley Whitman, the developer who built the Bal Harbour Shops. Bill and Dudley Whitman are in the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame and shot footage for The Sea Around Us, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1952.
“It’s not a just a travelogue,” said Dudley Whitman, who was 27 when he filmed True Hawaii.
“It takes you to history that even the people who live on the island didn’t know about.”
The educational film has not been released, but Dudley Whitman, 90, who served as an executive producer and associate editor, said he hopes to land a deal that would put the masterpiece on television.
Whitman, a Bal Harbour resident, dedicated the film to his brother Bill, who died in 2007.
The more than 11,000 feet of vintage film shot on a 16mm camera was conserved and stored at several places, including the Bal Harbour Shops’ Whitman Family Museum. The movie was stored in ammunition boxes with silica gel to keep out the moisture.
“The movie is a Rip Van Winkle story,” Dudley Whitman said.
The footage was not released back then because at the time 16mm film didn’t translate to the new large-format, wide theater screens, he said.
The 52-minute True Hawaii features the history of the islands’ culture and, of course, surfing.
Surfer Steven Manning, who lives in Hawaii, attended a sneak preview last month at the Whitman museum. He said the movie brought him memories of his home.
“I get chills to this day, I still surf the places they showed on the film,” said Manning, who is visiting South Florida and has lived in Hawaii for 15 years. “This shows how beautiful and friendly the people are.”
Before putting the film together, the old footage was transferred digitally into a high-definition format. PineRidge Film and Television, a Florida-based production company, sent out a crew to shoot Hawaii’s current condition, so the Whitman footage can be used to compare the island of yesterday and today.
Producer and associate editor Robert Kahn said the movie took about eight months to put together, with some of the editing taking place at the Whitman museum.
“The film is so wonderful,” he said. “We wanted to see it stretch out and feature more of the vintage film.”
The brothers shot the film in the summer of 1947, highlighting famous surfing spots like Waikiki and the sports gods like Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic medalist.
The movie was inspiring for local surfer Michael Laas.
“The footage they have is the golden age of surfing,” he said. “That time came and the guys that surfed in that era are giants. They were true watermen.”
The brothers designed a tower made of wood, rubber and wire about 20 feet high and placed it way out in the ocean near the reef in the midst of surfers and canoes. The tower had enough space for a tripod, camera and an operator to take steady shots of surfers.
Dudley Whitman said he hopes the film enlightens viewers.
“My thing in life is to entertain people not to bore them,” he said.