Splinters | Film review
A documentary surfs political tensions in Papua New Guinea.
When the surfboard was introduced to Papua New Guinea’s remote Vanimo village by a visiting pilot in the 1980s, it brought with it a wave of change. Adam Pesce’s Splinters documents Vanimo 20 years into its surfing revolution, finding a community at a crossroads between tradition and modernity. For centuries, the locals existed in an insular, patriarchal society where spousal abuse was considered an outrage only if the husband failed to pay the wife’s dowry. But now the women want to surf, too, and their desire for equality is pushing gender tensions to the breaking point (or, in this case, the point break).
Pesce follows four Vanimo surfers—two men and two women from fiercely competitive clubs—as they prepare for Papua New Guinea’s first major surfing championship. He creates riveting contrasts between the simplicity of their sport and the complexity of the politics that surround it. Though Splinters emulates a laid-back surfer-dude vibe all too well in its sluggish middle third, the final surf-off is a total white-knuckler, especially when one club threatens to have the other’s star surfer arrested on charges of unpaid alimony. Pesce does an effective job of balancing the various Vanimo factions, and of letting the din of controversy fade into Zen serenity whenever the surfers hit the waves.