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From her home in the Byron Bay hinterland, Angie Davis has reached across oceans and continents to tell the story of Lobitos and its people. The Peruvian coastal village, its self-sustained emergence from under the shadow of ‘big oil’ and the surfing culture that has helped reform the region’s innate strength are examined in Double Barrel, the journalist-turned-filmmaker’s picturesque and deeply humanistic documentary.

In the US to support the festival rollout of her debut long-form work before returning home for the Australian premiere on February 27, Davis (pictured, above) spoke at length to SCREEN-SPACE about her love for the Lobitos community and how their struggle has inspired her, creatively and intellectually… 

What made the culture and people of Lobitos so alluring to you?

The people of Lobitos live a simplistic lifestyle without the modern comforts that we are accustomed to in the West. The rawness of north Peru’s coastal regions make for a number of complexities, such as a dramatic lack of rain, clean drinking water, and fertile soil. The locals are dependent on the ocean for food sources, yet the oil industry combined with commercial overfishing has significantly affected the fish stocks. Local fishermen have to venture further out to sea, in small boats or handmade balsa rafts at night, to hook a decent catch, which translates to greater running costs. I respect the local fishing community for enduring such hardships, while living with big smiles on their faces. And now the son’s of fishermen from the area are getting into surfing and living their lives around the tides and swells. It is this ocean-inspired lifestyle with the backdrop of the raw Peruvian desert that drew me to the area. 

How has the emergence of a modern surf culture integrated with the traditions of the township?

It hasn’t been so seamless. Lobitos was created as an oil town 100 years ago by BP, became one of the richest towns in Peru, and then fell to ruins when the lefts took power in the 60s, expelling all foreign oil companies from the country. In the 90s, the beaches attracted the affluent surfers from Lima who built hostels and surf lodges straight onto the shoreline, which wasn’t exactly welcomed by the existing community who lived back off the ocean a few blocks inland. Surfing has definitely put Lobitos on the map, both domestically and internationally, but the rate of development is alarming. A combination of profit-driven objectives and an ignorant lack of knowledge about how delicate sand-bottom surf breaks are to the movements of sand, tides and wind (means) overdevelopment on the beachfront can lead to the complete destruction of the town’s primary profitable resource - the waves (pictured, right; Davis with environmental advocate and big wave surfer Harold Koechlin and an Andean local). 

Double Barrel balances a human-interest story, environmental/social issues and sports travelogue elements. How did you reconcile your objectivity of a journalist and empathy of a social commentator?

This story was close to my heart. I started writing humanitarian journals for Amnesty International and throwing fundraisers for Surfrider Foundation from when I was 18. I was a surfer with a burning desire to travel and soon recognized a link between great waves being located in underprivileged regions and wanted to explore that more. I was working on a luxurious surf travel piece when I found myself in Peru, but abandoned that story when I saw first-hand that Lobitos was not ready for an influx of wealthy surf tourists. I decided that a film would give Lobitos a chance to move forward more sustainably and challenge audiences to consider their role in the rise and fall of surf communities, or any developing communities, worldwide.

Which filmmakers inspired you? 

I grew up with Taylor Steele’s surf movies. My interview with him on his film Sipping Jetstreams was my first published magazine piece, and I watched him evolve as a filmmaker from action-packed surf films to more travel-inspiring cinematic ‘journey’ pieces. Taylor was a great mentor on Double Barrel. In the end I wanted to make a surf film with ‘everyday’ people that everyone could relate to, with inspiring travel cinematography supporting a story that inspires hope. Too often environmental films finish with that feeling of “wow, I have no idea what I can do to help save the world.” Double Barrel highlights marine environment protection initiatives like the Juntos Por Las Playas Del Norte, a project that was inspired by our efforts making the film. 

The impact of industry on a population and their natural habitat is key to Double Barrel. How did your experiences living in Japan at a time of enormous hardship influence the film?

The Japanese disaster in 2011 was devastating. After the earthquake, we were forced to evacuate for what started as one night but eventually turned into about three months of uncertain life on the road. Nothing could prepare you for living through something like that. The aftershocks were constant and powerful, the constant threat of tsunami was exhausting, not to mention the unknown consequences of the Fukushima fallout. As someone who surfed, swam or walked alongside the ocean daily, and with a one-year-old toddler and being pregnant at the time, the entire experience was life changing. When I first visited north Peru and saw the aging refineries and platforms so close to the shore, the thought of what could happen brought up so much pain inside of me. My experience in Japan made me feel there was an urgency to make this film. I couldn’t bare to see another place I love and the people who inhabit it become so devastated by the consequences of building industry right on the coast. Surviving an event like Fukushima stays with you forever, but it has to be taken as an opportunity to grow and evolve from the experience. 

What are your thoughts on ‘film’ as a force for change? How would you define the relationship between your artistic vision for Double Barrel and the message you had to impart? 

Until I went to Peru and had the idea to make Double Barrel, I had never desired to be a filmmaker. I loved storytelling through writing and producing. Taylor had done a short film for Charity Water in Ethiopia, and helped raise $1million for fresh water wells. I was blown away by how much documentary film could appeal to a global audience, and actually impact developing communities. I knew I had to have a script and storyboard, so that it had structure and context. I didn’t really know a thing about filmmaking, but I knew I wanted the film to be of the highest quality possible, and placed myself around geniuses in their fields that were also passionate about the project. Dustin Hollick was a surfing ambassador for Patagonia who had made surf films growing up in Tassie, including a film ‘El Gringo’ which had sequences from Peru, so I went to him with the script knowing I could trust him. I could not have made the film without him. Dustin recognized my emotion to the place and knew that had to be included in the film, resulting in a transparency that tells the story as it truly happened. Cinematographer Tim Wreyford had previously shot Mick Fanning’s ‘Missing’ film and we shot the first half of the film together. Then I returned with Alejandro Berger who is one of the world’s best water photographers (pictured, above; Davis, left, whith her key crew members). I wanted to combine the format of surf films with longer music-driven surf and travel montages that would give a real sense of the place. We learnt a lot of lessons the hard way, and threw in a lot of our own money to get this off the ground, but the response so far has been incredible. I am very proud of everyone for sticking with it.

A Switchboard Media production, Double Barrel has its Australian premiere in Byron Bay on February 27. Ticket and venue information available here.

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