HRAFF Film Review – Splinters

By Imogen White

A young man sits on the floor of his house, tending to a pair of faded red board-shorts with a needle and thread. “For a job I would like … forget it, I just want to surf”, he says with a broad smile filling his face then lingering on as he continues to sew.

Splinters … tells the engrossing story of the tiny village of Vanimo and its obsession with surfing.

Two young locals sit on the front steps of a beachfront home, pouring over the well-worn pages of an old surfing magazine. One of the pair traces his fingers over a sequence of images that depicts one of his heroes in motion – as though he is attempting to learn what he calls “the techniques of the white man” through the static photographs that fill the magazine’s pages. “I want to be a professional like Kelly Slater”, says another local surfer. “I too want to be like these guys, but from Papua New Guinea.”

Splinters is a documentary that tells the engrossing story of the tiny village of Vanimo and its obsession with surfing. The film pivots around the upcoming inaugural Papua New Guinea National Surfing titles. It traces the journey of four hopeful young locals – Ezekiel, Angelus, Lesley and Susan – as they strive to succeed in the competition, hoping to be chosen to represent PNG internationally and to train in Australia with world-class surfers.

Vanimo is a place rife with contrasts … Beauty and innocence coexist with violence and desperation.

And yet, it is not a surf film. “I never set out to make a ‘surf movie’”, says director Adam Pesce. Instead, Pesce’s aim was to “introduce the viewer to an experiment unfolding in a Petri dish.”

“Will [surfing] be the golden goose that provides a ‘way out’ for emerging surfing talent?” he asks. “Or could it give false hope and usher in the erasure of indigenous heritage while paving the way for commercial exploitation from the West?”

Vanimo is a place rife with contrasts, and Pesce’s film brilliantly captures these dualities that pervade the daily lives of the local villagers. Beauty and innocence coexist with violence and desperation. We see this when idyllic shots of the young children of the village – carefree and exuberant, “belly-boarding” on found pieces of wood – are repeatedly spliced up against confronting scenes that reveal the pervasive domestic violence and tribal divisions that threaten to splinter the community irreparably.

The rolling, crashing waves of the village’s eternally perfect break stand as a fitting metaphor for the contradictory forces of modernisation and traditionalism that push and pull upon the lives of the locals.

Events spiral quickly into dramatically tense terrain – Angelus faces jail for failing to pay alimony, Lesley faces exile from her family – and yet, surfing continues to bring brief moments of respite to the locals of Vanimo. “I love this sport because I surf with nature. I don’t compete against man”, says Ezekiel. “I don’t go to church too often. I go surfing. My church is the ocean.” As Susan says, “Surfing changes your actions and your ways. It can take you to another country. A place you’d never see otherwise, you’ll see.”

The rolling, crashing waves of the village’s eternally perfect break stand as a fitting metaphor for the contradictory forces of modernisation and traditionalism that push and pull upon the lives of the locals. Splinters is compelling and moving. Sometimes lyrical and often confronting, it documents the challenges faced by the men and women who live in the tiny, isolated community of Vanimo as they negotiate the forces of “progress” – attempting to adapt to what one local describes as the meeting of the “new changing world” with the “slow changing culture” of the village.

Splinters is screening on Thursday 24 May 2012 at 6:15pm, at Melbourne’s ACMI Cinemas. To purchase tickets, click here.

The film is also showing:

On Wednesday 30 May 20 at 7pm, at Canberra’s National Film & Sound Archive. To purchase tickets click here.

On Sunday 10 June 2012 at 7pm, at Alice Springs’ Pop Cinema – Olive Pink Botanical Gardens. To purchase tickets, click here.

For more on our coverage of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, click here.

To visit the HRAFF website, click here.

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