When Jinna Yang first met Mati Nobrega, she didn’t know that she was going to make a profile film about him. He’s a quiet person who’s humble in a confident way, but she didn’t know his story. That story, she would learn, would become the backbone for Empanadas for Sale, the movie that won her the Short Film division of The Inertia Film&Photo Challenge.
Yang, who has been making a living as a freelance photographer for seven years, is always on the lookout for a good story. The call was for films that paint a picture of “someone doing great things in surf and outdoor culture,” and as it turned out, Mati’s story fit the bill.
“I’d met Mati in passing on more than a few occasions over the last year,” ” she explained, “but I couldn’t say that he was ever really my friend. He was never the loudest person in the room, he didn’t take up the most space, but he had a quiet, yet confident, humility about him. He was just an all-around nice guy with good energy and an easy-going nature. It wasn’t until I discovered that at only 22, he has had to learn more about life, patience, and resilience than a lot of people twice his age.”
Empanadas for Sale tells how Mati overcame a debilitating injury to leave Uruguay in search for a perfect wave. “I grew up in a small country, in an even smaller town,” he said in the film. “As a kid, surfing was the motivation to wake up every day. Maybe Uruguay wasn’t the best place to become a surfer, but the dream of finding the perfect wave kept growing inside of me.”
When Yang got to know Mati, she knew she had to document him and bring his background to life. “Mati’s story is one that has inspired me in my own effort to handle tough times and spit out something beautiful,” she said. “And I knew that his story, paired with a natural talent for surfing, would inspire a lot of people around the world. When he told me of how and why he came to Australia from his small hometown in Uruguay, I just couldn’t believe it. You just can’t make that stuff up.”
When Mati was helping his uncle with some construction at his house, things went badly. It would change his life, landing him immobile in a bed for the next five months. While moving bricks in a wheelbarrow, he felt something snap in his back.
“He told me that he didn’t want to be there all day, as he was doing his uncle a favor and wanted to get to the beach,” Yang said. “He got a bit anxious to leave and loaded the wheelbarrow up way more than he should have, so he could take fewer trips. As soon as he pulled the wheelbarrow up, he felt a sharp, sudden pain in his back. Instead of stopping right away, he just pushed on and finished the job. The next day he couldn’t get out of bed, and he was in bed for almost five months after that.”
After nearly half a year in agony, Mati woke up one morning and decided that the pain wasn’t going to stop him from chasing his dreams. On a Friday morning, he told his parents he was going to Australia. But it wasn’t a cheap proposition, so Mati figured out exactly how many empanadas it would take for him to get there: 3,500. He spent the whole summer in a back brace on a kitchen stool making empanadas to pay for that trip to Australia, and at the end, his mission was complete. He made it to Australia, where his search for the perfect wave continues.
Yang was elated with the honor, to say the least.
“It feels surreal to win,” Yang said. “To be honest, we didn’t expect to win at all. We just wanted to create something for ourselves and for others, in hopes that this film would inspire people to push through and find their passions and enjoy the ride.”
Editor’s Note: We would like to thank every photographer and filmmaker that submitted entries to The Inertia’s Film&Photo Challenge 2021. We were humbled by the quality, and the quantity, of the work submitted. Thanks to our partner, White Claw, for helping to make it all happen, and Manera for its additional support.