The documentary “Transcend,” which commemorates the life of Jon Mozo, came under the spotlight at the Honolulu International Film Festival on Nov. 4. Mozo was a BYU-Hawaii alumnus who was known to the public as a professional wave photographer.
The unifying trait of the ocean was a theme woven in throughout the film. Mozo used the ocean in his work to transcend culture and time, says the documentary. Devin Graham, also known as DevinSuperTramp on YouTube, filmed the majority of the footage shown in the film. The film was six years in the making and the production team reworked the story of the film three months before the premiere, said Nikki Mozo at the premier.
Jon Mozo said the ocean gave so much to him. However, the lifeguard who was on duty the day he died, said the ocean claimed his life on the most perfect day to be out in the waves. He died in 2005 after hitting his head on the reef at Pipeline.
Among those close to him, Jon Mozo was first and foremost known as a father. People revered him for how he treated
others. “The impression Jon left as an artist and as a person continues to inspire people to be more loving, more engaged and more conscious of the beauty in and around us,” according to the Mozo collection website.
Home video footage showed Jon Mozo in a gallery with his work behind him and his children in front of him. Instead of beginning by speaking about his photographs, he spoke about his family and their central place in his life.
Amber Mozo, his oldest daughter, has followed in her father’s footsteps as a photographer. She said in her book “Chasing Light,” “My dad was everything to me. Everything I wanted to be. He chased light every day and died doing what he loved…[our family] had to decide that we were going to find the light again, to chase it and to be it.” Amber captured images that took her on an emotional journey to find healing. She recorded those thoughts with the images in her book.
Jon Mozo often spent time in Tahiti and the people he interacted with still have a special place in their hearts for him. One of the locals said, “Before, we didn’t like people. We kept to ourselves, but Jon changed that.”
Interview after interview of his wife, friends, brothers, children, and mother all reiterated the same central message: His kind and loving treatment of people was especially significant about him.
Graham said the process of making this film changed him. He said, “Though I had never met Jon, I have felt his influence through the people he inspired and the legacy he left behind. I attribute the discovery of my own voice because of Jon’s story. I was inspired to pursue my own passion and remember the importance of my voice and influence on others… [Jon Mozo] was a family man first and foremost. People know me as a filmmaker first and I want to switch it around. Obviously it doesn’t change in an instant, but it’s what I’m aiming for.”
Nikki Mozo said an Enactus team at BYUH wanted to make a film about the Jon Mozo story and they connected her with Graham. “He moved here to make this film. We gave him a place to live and a van to drive for free and he filmed the interviews. Nikki Mozo said this was before he was well known on YouTube as DevinSupertramp.
She said after he came here, he started producing a video about every other Tuesday for his YouTube channel. “There were adventurous college students living in a beautiful place and he took advantage of that.” She said, “We never gave him a dime for the project, and in the end, he spent a lot of money hiring an editor to finish the film on time since he was busy with other projects.” She said that through the process of making the film, they grew close with Graham. “We gave him a hard time just like family does when he started getting famous on YouTube.”
Synopsis of the Movie
“Transend,” started at the beginning of Jon Mozo’s life. He was born in Hawaii, but since his dad was in the military, they lived all around the globe. His family was living in Japan when Jon Mozo graduated from high school and he decided to move back to Hawaii for college.
There he began working at the Polynesian Culture Center Photo Pali, where he took pictures of visitors and worked in the lab developing photos. Nikki Mozo was working at the PCC as well and a mutual friend of theirs introduced them. “On our first date, he took me to the campus movie. He was very shy. The next date was bowling at the game center, and from that point we spent our weekends together,” said Nikki Mozo.
Jon Mozo went back to Japan for the summer and Nikki followed him there. They were married the following spring, and a year and a half later they had their first child Makana. They later had three more children, Amber, Yani, and Anela.
Back at BYUH, Jon and Nikki Mozo were trying to balance between school, work and taking care of their young family. They decided Nikki, who was closest to graduating, would finish up school and get a full-time job while Jon took care of their children and pursued his career in photography. It was during this time that Amber Mozo became his work buddy. She would go with him to photo shoots.
He pursued his career in photography in full force when he began taking photos of models here in Hawaii. They decided Nikki would quit her job to raise their children. Nikki said this pushed him to work even harder.
They moved to New York for Jon to go to art school. “He showed them his portfolio, and they told him he didn’t need to go to school for what he was doing already.” Nikki continued,
“Working at Photo Pali gave him resources to be innovative. He was doing things that no one was doing at the time. His experience eliminated his need to go to art school.”
In New York, he worked as an apprentice for a well-known photographer. Nikki said, “He did a lot of high-end weddings.” She said her husband wanted to start his business where they were going to live, so they moved back to Hawaii after two years in New York.
An interview of Jon Mozo showed him pensively describing his relationship with the ocean. Jon had an innate fear of the ocean. He was aware of her [the ocean’s] power. His tone and body language in the film showed he had a deep sense of respect for her.
One morning he was on a Jet Ski on his way to take photos out at Keana Point and his box of equipment fell off and was lost at sea.
Nikki Mozo said when he came home he wasn’t upset. He said it was okay for the ocean to take from him because, “She gives me so much.”
On another occasion, a shark attacked his feet while he was surfing at Goat Island and left him unable to walk for a few weeks. She said, “A community member gave him an electric wheelchair for him to use while he recovered, and he made his way up to the temple to shoot a wedding shortly after his attack.”
Nikki Mozo said her husband had a premonition his life was coming to an end. He wrote a note to his family on the back of one of his large prints and stowed it away in their shed. Nikki found it after he passed away. She said it served as a reminder to her that even though he wasn’t there physically, he was still there.
Jon Mozo died on the North Shore at Pipeline. “He was especially excited to get in the ocean that day for some reason,” said Amber Mozo. He arrived at Pipeline right as his brother Allen was leaving. He also said Jon was very excited to get in the water.
That was the last time Allen spoke with his brother. The movie showed how pulling these heart-wrenching memories to the surface drew raw emotion up with it.
Nikki was driving back from town when she received a phone call informing her Jon was critically injured. She and her family didn’t know what the extent of his injuries were, but she knew it was serious. She said deep down she knew that Jon wasn’t coming home when she was told he was at Kahuku Medical Center and they weren’t going to move him to a different hospital with better equipment. She was right. Jon didn’t come home.
The website jonmozostory.com says the film is about, “A man’s love affair with the ocean; a love that reached out to embrace him and never let go.”
Proceeds of the film go to The Jon Mozo Legacy Fund which offers grants and micro loans to 16-26 year olds who need assistance launching their businesses.