Locals and visitors know about Slomo, but most don’t know the man behind the character. San Francisco filmmaker Josh Izenberg decided to change that.
After a 2 ½-year process, Izenberg’s documentary — simply titled “SLOMO” — has gained recognition and awards at film festivals throughout the country. The film won “Best Short Film” at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and “Best Short Documentary” at the South by Southwest Film Festival, which Slomo attended.
“People love Slomo,” Izenberg said. “You know, it’s amazing. People are moved by him. His story is good, and I think it’s really a resonate story. It’s a guy who used to be a very different guy. And, at some point, he committed himself to following this passion, which is sort of strange at first, skating in slow-motion style up and down the beach. I think there are a lot of people who want to do this deep down. And they see that in Slomo and it’s meaningful to them.”
The 16-minute documentary tells the story of John Kitchin [Slomo], a former neurologist who took his life in an entirely different direction.
“I sort of detoured,” said Kitchin. “I came from a conservative background in North Carolina, and then the Navy at age 26 or something like that, and it landed me here. I became Californianized right at the beginning of the 1970s. I’m kind of a poster child of what went wrong with that generation.”
Kitchin said he’s been rollerblading as Slomo for about 15 years and describes his story as a regular guy in pursuit of happiness.
“In a way, it reminds me of a scene in the movie ‘Cool Hand Luke,’ where all the prisoners are in the ditch digging,” he said. “I think it was that one of them was making a run for the woods. All the prisoners in the ditch stopped digging and cheered for him as the two guys at the end cock their guns and shot him down before he made the trees,” Kitchin said. “And I’m thinking Slomo is the one of us that’s running, and the rest of you guys are cheering like, ‘He’s getting away with being happy!’”
Izenberg learned about Slomo from his father, who was a friend of Kitchin’s when they attended Wake Forrest University.
“My dad was in San Diego for a conference and he’s walking down the boardwalk in Pacific Beach and he ran into John,” said Izenberg. “Lo and behold, this guy who he remembered as being a serious neurologist was Slomo. [Kitchin] is rollerblading down the beach. He’d become a different person.”
Izenberg visited Kitchin’s website, www.iamslomo.com, and read some of his writing about the “Zone,” Kitchin’s philosophy about life and happiness. He decided that the story was not only about someone who had changed his life, but the ideology behind it. He contacted Kitchin, who was more than happy to help.
“I mean, I’m Slomo’s first fan. I’ve been waiting for someone to really do justice to this phenomenon. Even if it were just me standing on as somebody else and thinking, somebody ought to get into this and explain it,” Kitchin said.
In December 2010, Izenberg took a trip to San Diego to meet Kitchin. They spent a few days talking and skating on the boardwalk.
“When he showed up, he’s a miniature version,” Kitchin said. “Kind of a slim version of his daddy. And his daddy and I were very close, because we were on a football team together for three years and never lost until the last game. It was a serious intramural football team. It was just a memorable part of my life, and he went off and became a plastic surgeon after serving in Vietnam, and I kind of went into this California existence.”
In July 2011, Izenberg came back with a small film crew. They had enough material from the first shoot to make a trailer, and were able to crowd-source funding on kickstarter.com to cover travel expenses and equipment rentals. Over the next year and a half, the crew took trips from San Francisco over long weekends to finish the film.
As it was Izenberg’s first documentary, he said he didn’t expect to win any awards, but as the crew captured hours of material, it became clear that they had something great.
“We didn’t know this going in,” said Izenberg. “We thought Slomo was a really great guy, but we didn’t know what kind of film it was going to turn into. We started to get toward the end of the film and we thought it was pretty good. We were surprised, and we thought it was worth submitting to as many film festivals as we could. You never know.”
Izenberg said he learned a lot from the experience, not only as a filmmaker, but on a personal level as well.
“Just hanging out with Slomo, that did really affect me in a lot of ways, you know. I don’t know exactly what it is, but he has definitely reinforced many ideas I had about pursuing whatever it is that you really want to do deep down inside, no matter how crazy it sounds,” Izenberg said. “Here’s a guy that sort of reminds me that it’s worthwhile.”
Kitchin said he also learned a lot. He enjoyed being around young filmmakers who wanted to examine the positive things in life and were passionate about it. He gained an appreciation for the film’s attention to detail, and said he was pleased with the end result.
“I think what comes through to a person who sees it, and I say this with all due modesty because it happens to be about me or Slomo, but the thing that comes across is the love that the director of this and the group of people who put it together, the love and fondness they had for their subject. That’s the most outstanding thing to me,” Kitchin said. “You can tell on every turn they took the character and put him in the best possible light. For instance, you know, I’m a doctor. There was no indication about why the hell didn’t he take this time to cure cancer or something like that, there was none of that kind of stuff. There are so many ways that we all can look at ourselves from a negative point of view and each one of us is more aware of our own negatives.”
Izenberg said he is trying to set up a screening in San Diego before the San Diego Film Festival in October. For trailers, visit www.slomothemovie.com.
Whether people agree with Kitchin’s ideology or not, one of the boardwalk’s longtime fixtures has gained a fan base that spans across the country with a positive message.
“To me, it’s kind of like if you woke up in a desert and there’s only you and a horse and no information and you don’t even remember where you are,” said Kitchin. “There’s no sign of anything. You just know you’ve got to find water. My question is, do you decide or do you let the horse decide where to go? I’ve learned to let the horse decide.”