I was lucky enough to hit London at the same time as the London Surf Film Festival. I only managed to catch one film, however, so if I said it was the pick of the bunch, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I am full of rubbish. But I am not. The film won best documentary film, a nod to its fantastic direction and narrative.
Splinters is first time film project Adam Pesce. It is work of ethnographic passion set in Papua Guinea, where the growth of surfing culture is meticulously narrated. It begins by identifying the village elder that first surfed the “white man’s” board, and culminates with the first national surfing championships twenty years later. Yet it is the journey along the way that engrosses and absorbs the viewer’s attention in the soap opera details of the lives and culture of the inhabitants.
A rivalry rages between the two surf clubs, Sunset and Vanimo, ultimately leading to a depressing situation for one of the title characters, Amadeus, at the end of the film. Amadeus, the real star of the show, is a serial polygamist who ends up on the run from a hateful, embittered ex-partner. We also learn of two sisters both surfing, but living different lives – one married, the other free. There is the hard working Andy as well, the British/PNG president of the surf club, who tirelessly tries to keep all the tribal and cultural traditions at bay to questionably allow a civilizing of the community, with hopes for the ultimate success of the surfing championship.
The joy of the film is the demonstration of common themes that everyone can relate to and recognize in our own everyday lives. It encapsulates the tumultuous twists and turns of the world and characters that make life. The tribal traditions are emphasized by the two warring surf clubs, spurred by emotions of bitterness, envy and hate. It forces one to recognize that the choices we make in life decide our fate. Other characters share their hopes and dreams of travel and new opportunities outside of Papua New Guinea. The women in the film help demonstrate the universal fight of women to be shown respect and equality, given voice here by the sisters’ struggle to acquire a board to surf as the men monopolize them all. Abruptly, we witness a public beating of a woman by her brother, yet the deeper trauma and causes of this are left unresolved by the film. The cultural traditions in Papua New Guinea of tribalism, aggression, male supremacy, and polygamy are observed through a surfing lens.
The film is a deeply personal account from Adam Pesce, which is what makes the end so depressing. It left me thinking theislanders were somehow exploited in the name of a good entertainment. Not to ruin the story for you, but the serially polygamous – but far and away the most impressive surfer – Amadeus, gets a serious lesson in morality at the end of the film.
Splinters contains more passion, loyalty, competition, ambition and all around stoke for surf than you’re likely to see on any generic kind of surf film. It delves deep into cultural traditions, ethics and equality. I always like a film that makes us consider the wholeness of world and emphasizes our similarities, not differences.