Surfing Competition Splinters An Island's Culture
Filmmaker Adam Pesce chronicles a fascinating period of cultural transition in the remote South Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea, where people follow deeply rooted traditions and change happens very slowly.
The film's location is Vanimo Village, a tiny dot of a town, blessed with beautiful beaches and obligingly perfect surf. The members of the close-knit community have developed a mad passion for surfing. The sport was first introduced to them some 20 years ago, by a vacationing Australian pilot who left his surfboard behind when he left town and returned home.
Fast forward to the present, and we see that surfing has become the Vanimo villagers' fast track ticket to social and financial status on the island. The small community now has two established surfing clubs, and intense rivalry between them is the source of tremendous tensions in the town. The tensions are exacerbated when women, breaking with island traditions that put men first, decide that they, too, want to surf.
The rivalry comes to a head while the two teams prepare for the first-ever Papua New Guinea National Surfing Championship, especially because the top scorers will have a chance to go to Australia for the international surfing competitions. To young islanders, a trip to Australia is a golden opportunity to see the world beyond the wave-swept shores of Papua New Guinea.
A Filmmaker's Eye For Detail
Pesce, who has surfed since he was a child, learned about Vanimo's surfing craze from a magazine article. Papua New Guinea apparently has near-perfect waves for surfing, but the film is about much more than the sport itself. Pesce follows several appealing key characters, and they all have compelling character arcs. Ezekial and Angelus, two of the village's best male surfers, are best friends who face the difficulty of competing against each other. And, Susan and Lesley, the village's top female surfers, are sisters who root for each other, just hoping that a woman will have a win.
All of the competitors face stressful and dramatic family situations that have an impact on their surfing aspirations. Their difficulties reveal as much about island cultural taboos as they do about their personalities. Most dramatic is the situation of Angelus, who's ex-wife, a supporter of the rival surfing club, threatens to have him arrested for failing to pay child support. Lesley's family beats her and burns all of her clothing because she's been intimate with a man who's married to another island woman.
An Intriguing View of Island Life
While filming the competitors negotiating the island's endless parade of perfect waves, Pesce times his delivery of details about their personal lives perfectly. His pacing of the film garners a high score. And, without presenting a parade of background statistics, he presents a platform that invites contemplation about island life, about the effects of cargo culture and the transition of tradition-bound communities as they adopt more "modern" ways. When that surf board was introduced to the community 20 years ago, it was hardly high technology -- yet it transformed village culture as though it had been.
The film provokes thoughts about how globalization occurs, and what its effects might be in remote corners of the globe like Papua New Guinea.
Speaking of remote, Vanimo Village is a destination where few but the most intrepid tourists would schedule for a visit. Pesce's beautifully shot documentary serves as a candid and very intriguing travelogue for people who view the world from the comfort of their armchairs.
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- Director: Adam Pesce
- U.S. Theatrical Release Date: February 3, 2012 (limited, New York and Los Angeles)
- Running Time: 94 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Country: USA
- Locations: Vanimo Village in Papua New Guinea, and Australia
- Language: English and Papua New Guinea dialect with English subtitles
- Distribution: SnagFilms
- Official Website