Claire Gorman: Life on Film

Claire Gorman: Life on Film

Title photograph by Caio Palazzo and all other photography by Claire Gorman, courtesy of Claire Gorman.

Claire Gorman is a talented filmmaker from Phillip Island, an amazing place with heaps of surf and plenty of inspiration. Her 2011 film First Love, which she created at the age of 22, quickly became my favourite surf film when I first stumbled upon it about a year ago. Perhaps it’s the way she captures female surf culture in both Victoria, a part of Australia very near to my own heart, and Hawaii, or perhaps it’s the overall way she captures life on film. Either way, her work is definitely worth seeing. Here Claire shares a bit of her story.

In a few words, what’s your background story? I grew up in the bush in the Yarra Valley where I went to a Steiner school–an alternative school; some might call them “hippy” schools, but it had a strong creative influence. We moved to Phillip Island when I was 13, and I quickly adapted to the beach lifestyle.

How did you develop your interest in making films? My parents gave me a video camera, and I wouldfilm my older brother and his friends surfing, then they would “froth” over the footage when we got home and watched it on the telly. Of course, I always missed their best waves, but I loved the excitement of the whole thing. Then from there I would make little movies of our family holidays and that sort of thing.

Has growing up on Phillip Island influenced you in your career? Being surrounded by waves and surfing has certainly been a key influence in my career. My first feature, First Love opened doors to working with other surf filmmakers, and that naturally lead to working in music as well. They seem to go hand in hand. I still love to work in music and surfing now because of the lifestyle they’re attached to.

Where did you get the idea to document surfers India Payne, Jess Laing, and Nikki van Dijk in First Love? Originally I just wanted to explore the difference in girls who surf in a cold environment, like Phillip Island, to girls who surf in a warm environment, like Hawaii. And on top of that, I wanted to show what their everyday lives were really like, as most surf films only showed surfing, surfing and more surfing, and maybe a girl’s ass on the beach. So it was a very simple idea motivated by the fact that there were no other women’s surf films on the market that I had heard of.

What is it like becoming a part of the lives of the people in your films and watching their stories unfold? For me this is the part I love the most. It wasn’t something I had really expected or even thought about before making First Love. It’s a privilege to be let into someones life like that. For example, when Jess had her shoulder operation, it was just me and her mum there with her, and I remember finding it hard not to get too emotional and remind myself I was just there to film.

Have you kept in touch with India, Jess, and Nikki? [If yes,] How does it feel to see them progress in their own journeys after filming their adventures in First Love. Jess and I are good friends. She lives about a 15 minute walk from my house and we hang out a lot. She runs a surf school called Girls on Board, and it’s doing really well! It’s amazing to see how far she has come since her chronic fatigue days. Occasionally I run into India and Nikki, but I like to keep an eye on what they’re up to through social media. It’s cool to see Nikki on the world tour this year, and not a surprise at the same time.

Who is your biggest role model? This is a hard one. I don’t think there is one person who has influenced me above all others. Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to work with some very talented and good people. And from each of them I have learnt some valuable lessons that I try to keep close and apply to my work now.

What have been the most rewarding experiences you have had as a filmmaker, and what have been some of the most difficult? Rewarding, definitely the friendships I have made in both the people I am filming and the other filmmakers I am working with. The most difficult thing for me now is being away from my family, especially my two year old daughter, when I’m shooting overseas.

Is there a particular theme that you hope to convey through your cinematography? Not really, I just like to blend into the background and hope to capture something natural.

What’s next for you and Liquid Pictures? I’m working on another feature, and have been for the last few years on and off and in between life’s great events, titled Bigger Than Me. It’s a story about two women who surf big waves.

Check out more of Claire’s work.


Maddie Buresh is a writer and photographer with an unquenchable desire to explore the great outdoors, from the ocean to the mountains. She finds joy in trying new things, living in community, and crafting stories that encourage people to go outside, have adventures, and enjoy this big, beautiful world.