'Splinters': Surfers ride waves of change in Papua New Guinea
A review of "Splinters," Adam Pesce's documentary about a 2006 surfing competition in Papua New Guinea. It's a fascinating look at a village culture in brutal, momentous change.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Splinters,' a documentary written and directed by Adam Pesce. 95 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.
The first Papua New Guinea Surfing Association national competition, held in 2006, was a big enough deal that the emerging nation's prime minister showed up — flanked by armed soldiers — to open the proceedings.
Filmmaker Adam Pesce caught that moment in his sometimes startling documentary "Splinters," a hybrid work that will appeal to both surf-movie fanatics and armchair sociologists.
Pesce, the film's director and one-man crew who shot "Splinters" over six months in the struggling Southwestern Pacific nation (mostly in the seaside village of Vanimo, where the surfing contest was held), also captures months of preparation.
The documentary's bottom line is that Vanimo — with its poverty, scofflaws, entrenched violence toward women and grudges between athletes — hardly looked ready in 2006 for the gaze of the international surfing community.
Pesce reveals a village of surfers at each other's throats. Their prospects are not only held back by a lack of resources (multiple surfers often have to share the same board) but by personal attacks, retaliation and deep resistance to the participation of two women who ride the waves with real expertise.
One of the most interesting figures in the film is the president of the Surfing Association, a formidable fellow named Andy, with roots both in Papua and England. We see Andy, an educated man, working hard to instill a vision in the athletes of a better life, something worth rising above all the pettiness and brutality. It's an uphill battle.
In a way, "Splinters" is about the aftermath of a cultural big bang that happened when, as Pesce asserts, a white pilot left behind a surfboard in Vanimo in the 1980s, introducing the sport and a way of life. If that's accurate, "Splinters" is a fascinating look at a historical accident still in motion.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org