Photo by Todd Glaser
A man with no cultural scene will often invent his own. Taylor Steele did just that. When the award-winning producer and director returned to North County two years ago after living in NYC, Australia, and Bali, he sought to reignite the creative community at home, and only one place would do: the historic La Paloma Theater in Encinitas, where he grew up watching films like Searching for Tom Curren on the ratty seats.
“La Paloma is the mecca for surf premieres, but there was no festival here,” says Steele, whose explosive 1992 rockumentary-style film Momentum inspired a generation of surfers to elevate the sport into an art form. His second annual Solento Film Festival takes place Sept. 22-25 at the 1928 Spanish Colonial icon. It’s a legacy story for Steele, who flipped the script with Sipping Jetstreams and Proximity and went on to art direct campaigns for Corona, Apple and HBO.
Last year’s festival debuted to a full house that included industry giants like Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and Mick Fanning. They were lured by more than movies; music has been a crucial part of Steele’s oeuvre ever since his early VHS films helped to boost SoCal bands like The Offspring and blink-182. During this year’s festival, concerts will be held on an outdoor stage at Seaside Reef, Steele’s home break.
One of the festival’s sponsors is Steele’s very own certified organic tequila brand, Solento, packaged in a Chanel N°5-inspired bottle. It’s a long way from the early days of surf films at La Paloma. “There was always the sound of beer bottles rolling down the aisle,” says Steele, legs outstretched on the seats in front of him. “It’s a rite of passage for every filmmaker to show here.”