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Meet the 2011 Tribeca Filmmakers | “Splinters” Director Adam Pesce

Meet the 2011 Tribeca Filmmakers | "Splinters" Director Adam Pesce

For some, surfing is a leisure sport. For others, it is a lifestyle, and becoming pro is a dream. For the surfers of Papua New Guinea, surfing is their key to a better life. It all started in the 1980s, when an intrepid Australian left behind his surfboard in the remote seaside village of Vanimo.

In Adam Pesce’s directorial debut, he follows four determined surfers leading up to the inaugural Papua New Guinea National Surfing Titles. Two friends, Angelus and Ezekiel, both yearn to be pro surfers but have different perspectives on how to achieve their goal. Sisters Lesley and Susan share the same goal as Angelus and Ezekiel but must also prove that women can make it too. At the center of the film is the challenge for the surfers to win a chance to train with world-class surfers in Australia. Talent is a must for all of them, but coming from village life, where running water is scarce and life options are limited, there is more at stake than just surfing glory. Touching on issues of economic development and women’s roles, “Splinters” sheds a new light on the sports dream. [Synopsis courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Tribeca Narrative, Documentary and Viewpoints sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

Director(s): Adam Pesce
Producer(s): Perrin Chiles, Adam Pesce
Director of Photography: Adam Pesce
Editor: Kim Roberts
Executive Producer: Paul Morgan, Catherine and Daniel Dávila, Danielle Robinson and Alan Siegel
Co-Producer: TJ Barrack and Wes Brown

Responses courtesy of “Splinters” director Adam Pesce.

Early love of film…

I was raised on cultural touchstones like the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” films. I loved going to movies but I never thought I would make a film myself. I just enjoyed sitting in a theater, being transported to another world and having an emotional experience. Then in college, I found myself going to multiple films a week, often by myself. Suddenly I got interested in the mechanics. Who was behind the curtain manipulating this experience of mine? I didn’t go to film school but I took a class at college that was a survey of documentaries. This started the wheels turning and the tools for creating a documentary seemed within my reach.

Fascination with surfing…

I grew up surfing in Southern California. While daydreaming and thumbing through a surfing magazine, I stumbled on an article about a remote seaside community in Papua New Guinea that had been introduced to surfing. They were fanatical about it. I was curious about why this village, called Vanimo, was so drawn to the sport. The project definitely chose me at that point. I just knew in my gut that I had to go and experience that village.

The idea of the film definitely evolved as it was made in fits and starts. I got news from my friend in Papua New Guinea that the first ever national surfing competition was slated to take place in Vanimo village. I knew this was the missing piece and could be the spine to hold a story together.

Living in the village…

When I heard there was going to be this competition, I was definitely meandering. I was in Los Angeles working in a restaurant, spinning my wheels and getting fed up with the city and its demands. Everything felt plastic. And, without getting too personal, my family life was really unsettled. There wasn’t much worth staying around for so I just checked out.

I left by myself with my surf boards, my cameras and a vow that I was not going to come back until I had a film. I thought if I lived in the village and immersed myself that things would grow from there. I stayed with Steve, one of the characters. I didn’t have a translator so I learned the national language, Tok Pisin. For the first two months, I barely shot anything. I was simply trying to understand who was who in the village. I ultimately figured out the “cast” and started to get to know people. This involved surfing with them, spending a lot time with their family and simply being around when things were happening in their lives. I got malaria a few times, too, for good measure.

In general, for six out of nine months of production, I shot by myself. When I got back, I taught myself how to edit, put some promo material together and was introduced to my producer by a friend. We went out to finance post-production and built the rest of the team from there.

The hurdle of momentum…

Momentum was definitely the biggest obstacle for “Splinters.” The film was made over the course of a number of years with bursts of activity and then extremely long lulls.

Losing track of time…

I’d been living in Vanimo for six months and I was walking through the village when this man and I started chatting. At one point he said, “You’ve been here a long time, a year now.” Time was definitely perceived differently in the village. People would just check the position of the sun if they needed to roughly know the hour of the day. Many people didn’t know exactly how old they were. Consequently, I became fairly malleable when it came to scheduling. Anyway, I felt strange explaining to the man that I had only been there six months.

Coming up…

I’m developing a fiction feature with Perrin Chiles, who produced “Splinters.” It’s going to be set in a Papua New Guinean jungle. Hopefully, there’ll be some deviations from location scouting and I can go surfing in Vanimo with the cast of “Splinters.”

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