When I first wrote about director Adam Pesce's Papua New Guniea-set documentary Splinters in 2011, I hadn't yet seen it. And despite Pesce's assertion that he "never set out to make a 'surf movie', that's pretty much what I was expecting when I finally got a chance to view the film. What I actually saw as I watched the film was pleasantly unexpected.
I went from sitting back in front of a screen, watching what seemed to be a documentary about rival surf clubs, to being on the edge of my seat, watching the lives of the film's main subjects-- Andy, Angelus, Ezekiel, Leslie, and Susan-- unfold and unravel in ways I never could have imagined.
The happy-go-lucky nature displayed by some of Splinter's subjects in the beginning of the film soon gave way to real-life situations that, I'm sure, many of us are far too familiar with. If you're reading this and thinking to yourself that you couldn't possibly have anything in common with the island people of Papua New Guinea (PNG), you better think again. When you see Splinters, you'll see the spirits of your parents, siblings, aunties, uncles, and cousins embodied in the inhabitants of PNG's Vanimo village. You might even see yourself. Director Pesce was able to capture the film's subjects in their most triumphant moments, and also when it seemed that they had hit rock-bottom.
Watching Splinters is almost akin to watching the best reality-tv offering you could ever hope for. The film documents Vanimo residents dealing with forbidden romance, jealousy, revenge, and evasion from law-enforcement, all set against a surfing competition and a chance to make the ever-evasive trip to Australia for a chance to represent the village.
After a limited theatrical release in 2012, the film is now available on VOD on iTunes, and you're encouraged to check it out!
I was able to speak with Adam Pesce, and he provided a great deal of insight into how Splinters came to be, and why certain controversial scenes needed to be included. However, I don't want to give away to much of the film for those of you who haven't seen it. But I will give you a taste of what Pesce had to say about Splinters:
S&A: Have the main subjects of Splinters—Angelus, Ezekiel, Lesley, and Susan—seen the finished film? And if so, how did they react to seeing their lives play out on screen?
Adam Pesce: Once we had heard from Tribeca [Film Festival], one of the first things that I did was call my friends in PNG, and call Andy, the president of the surfing association to let them know about this news. I invited everyone to come to the screening. Unfortunately, this film, I sure you can see, by the crux of the film, it’s really handmade, and intimate, and it was truly made on a shoestring [budget]. We weren’t able to fly anyone out—not having a budget for that. Andrew was able to come out, and Ezekiel was able to come out also. And after it finished, he turned to me and said “thank you”. Andy was very proud of the film as well. Leslie and Susan, I’ve spoken to over the phone, and I’m trying to get them to come to other screenings, and I’m letting them know about other film festivals that it’s played. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard from Angelus, despite a few attempts to get in touch. I’ve talked to Andy about trying to figure out a way to get everyone to see the film, and potentially screen the film in the village.
S&A: You say that never set out to make a “surf movie”, rather, you intended to introduce the viewer to an experiment unfolding in a Petrie dish. I imagine that each viewer who watches Splinters will have their own interpretation of what they watched, and how it turned out in the end. But as the filmmaker, were you at all surprised by the manner in which the story unfolded? And did you anticipate any of the film’s events as you were filming?
AD: I think it was absolutely surprising, the way it all unfolded. There’s a certain degree of faith that I had to have that things were going to unspool in a way that was going to be compelling. But at the same time, it had to manifest as well. So I think it was ultimately the most surprising thing how the arc was just built into life.
S&A: I’ve read that you have had no formal cinema training. You have an academic background in Diplomacy and World Affairs. Splinters has a very anthropological feel to it. Did your academic background influence your decision to make this film?
AD: I think Splinters was a culmination of influences and passions of mine. I think, primarily, my interest was that I was, and continue to be, a surfer. That was the main force in the posing of this question—“How was the surfing experiment was going to unfold in Vanimo?” And I think that relates to any type of anthropological approach.