Film Review: Sombrio

sombrio

A film by Paul Manly

A sensitive, coherent, and surprisingly profound documentary on the history of one of the most famous (and celebrated) squatter communities in the world of beaches and surfing, Sombrio is a heart-breaker. Located on Vancouver Island an hour west of the capital city of Victoria, British Columbia, Sombrio was an old gold-mining camp that became the gathering place of a diverse population of surfers and back-to-nature types during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Temporary driftwood shacks evolved into ‘permanent’ homes, and, as years passed, thoughts of ‘eviction’ retreated into the background as life on the beach and in the waves assumed a ritual permanence.

About 30 adults and children (including the Johnson-Oke family and Rivermouth Mike, who feature prominently in this film) eventually populated the rivermouth area with its assortment of habitats, surf spots, and hunter-gatherer conveniences. These locals were joined by the seasonal arrival of surfers attracted to the nice waves and other folks seeking a peaceful and natural getaway. Of course, these being ‘modern times’, all of this ‘hippie idealism’ had to end, which it did – first with the clear-cutting of the ancient forest that buffered their community from the outside world, then, in 1997, with the eviction of the squatters, the destruction of their homes, and the absorption of the Sombrio area into the provincial park system.

Filmed in the latter days of the community’s existence, Paul Manly introduces us to an extraordinary cast of real-life characters, real surfers and other humans, squatting on the fringe and savoring their unique opportunity to live at the edge of the wild, and now literally smoked out of their simple and essential utopia by the powers that always seem to be.

“Sombrio is a project that is very close to my heart,” writes Manly, who first camped on the beach almost 30 years ago. “I made Sombrio not just because it is an interesting story but because I also wanted to give the people in the community the respect they deserved.”

If this film is any indication, Paul Manly knows how to put together a good documentary (other titles include: Trading Democracy for Corporate Rile; Pot, Propaganda, Paranoia and Politics, and The Awakening of Elizabeth Shaw), so you might want to check out more of his work at: http://manlymedia.com

Words DK

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