Crossroads at the End of the World
At the imagined edge of the world, where one might envision the oceans dropping off into the universe, a ragtag team of feral surfers went on an epic quest for the wave of a lifetime. In the new surf journey film Isolated, the team found both waves of pristine waters – and the limits of humanity. Expecting only to find waves in rogue surf wilderness, the filmmakers stumbled upon an explosive human rights situation in the remote region of West Papua.
Exposing both the bounds of human cruelty, and discovering the inexhaustible human spirit, Isolated takes us on the truest surf pilgrimage yet. For if surfing is an exploration of our own existence, Isolated stands alone as the ultimate surfing adventure.
Without spoiling the story, the premise is groundbreaking; feral surfers break convention (and ignore warnings) to explore West Papua for awesome waves. They try to stay under the radar due to the volatile social and political status of the area, under Indonesian occupation. The group inevitably attracts attention and makes lots of new friends – but just as quickly, they discover that their new friends are in danger, and answer a clarion call for action. The surfers, and their new friends, will never be the same.
At the edge of the world, multinational corporate interests, surf tourism, and the decline of indigenous communities collide at the crossroads of duty and adventure. Isolated is a journey like no other, and a story that demands to be heard.
I traded words with Isolated director Justin LePera about the movie, which is in screenings across the country. Narrated and executive produced by Ryan Phillippe, Isolated is sure to leave its mark on the surf community, and possibly signal a paradigm shift in our collective consciousness.
What is the number one thing that stayed with you about your time in West Papua? ￼￼
￼The people and the fear they had that no one would ever know about their struggle and come to help them. They are a proud people that live off the land only using what they need and are totally content. They never asked for money, and were always so welcoming. They would do anything for us and really wanted us to be a part of their community. They love their land and are very proud of it. They respect nature and each other. Their huts, beaches and communities are immaculate because they take pride in their homes and culture. There is a lot we could learn from them. The film does an amazing job balancing its competing priorities – being a modest but transformational surf documentary about the eternal search for the perfect wave by feral surfers, and evolving into a second hand account of human rights atrocities on the same scale as Guatemala and Honduras. The film closes with a clarion call to action to raise awareness of the plight of the West Papuan people.
This central storyline is unfortunately a common theme in the narratives of many countries in the world. Multinational corporate interests hire oppressive militaries to crush the local people who stand in the way of profit. Do you think that the public and the international community will respond soon enough to combat the erosion of the way of life of West Papua, the violence against the indigenous people, and to combat the commercial development taking place?
I really do believe as more and more people get awareness of the atrocities going on in West Papua, real change can occur. It was the awareness of East Timor that caused change in that region of Indonesia. I believe one of the main reasons why there has not been much of a response to issue in West Papua is due to the lack of awareness. Indonesia prohibits journalism visas, so until the past few years there hasn’t been much documented in the area. Now with everything going viral and being able to capture video on your cell phones, more and more is being leaked out about the human rights violations in the region and the world is starting to take notice.
Many surf pilgrims travel the world to find incredible stories of suffering in the communities they learn to love. What is your advice to people who may discover their own West Papua story one day? Do you think this film will be a part of a greater paradigm shift in the context of the whole global surfing community, bringing more of a focus on the people and problems encountered, as opposed to just checking in and clocking out when their flight departs?
This is the main theme of our story not just for surfers but for travelers who encounter injustices within the regions they visit. So many people have turned their back to the issues that are occurring in the lands they travel believing they are powerless to creating an impact on the region. The fact is, we all have the power to create change by speaking out and bringing awareness through social media, writing, videos, etc. If those who are committing injustices around the world know that the world is watching, I believe they will be more hesitant to commit human rights abuses, especially if they ￼know they will be punished. Our surfers found a world-class wave and met an amazing group of people, which could easily have been good enough for them, but instead, they decided they would go beyond thinking of only themselves and to do their part to help the people. Doing your little part to help in any way you can creates a movement, and it is that movement that can create change.
Chevron is responsible for one of the world’s worst environmental and humanitarian disasters in the world after spilling crude oil the Ecuadorian rainforest. They are now planning to drill for oil and gas in West Papua. They have spent billions preparing to exploit the resources of the region. How might this affect the people living there? Do you think it is possible to engage the community in an open dialogue one day about the interests of their own landscape?
When we met with four Papuan political figures in a secret meeting protected by guards, fearing the military’s knowledge about our meeting, we discovered that many Papuan’s are very well aware of their valuable natural resources and are very open to doing business with foreign countries. What they were most concerned about were the human rights violations. They fear for their lives constantly. This is the main issue they want to see change in. Papuans are concerned about the amount of money foreign corporations spend on the military for security. The foreign businesses enable Indonesia to have such a strong military presence in the region due to financial backing the military gets from foreign corporations. Without the financial backing, Indonesia could not afford to have such a dominant military presence in West Papua. It is within the Indonesian military where change needs to happen for there to be peace in the region.
How do you think this will begin to change the approach of the traveling surfer community, if the regions surf pilgrims visit often end up being further developed due to such surf tourism in the first place?
First, I hope surfers will be inspired to get off the boats, on which they travel taking them to perfect breaks, and actually get to know the people of the land. Take in the full experience and engage with those who allow you to ride their perfect waves.
Second, I hope that when they encounter those being treated inhumanely or struggling to survive, they do whatever they can to help. Even if its just tweeting or facebook posting about it. One little post at least gets it out there to the world.
There are those who may often say that a ragtag group of feral surfers should either butt out or won’t be able to change anything when they encounter something of human or environmental concern. What would you say to that?
As human beings it is our obligation to look after one another. Butting out makes you a part of the problem. Those that do butt out are only empowering those who commit the crimes against humanity by allowing them to get away with it. As long as they can get away with it, they will continue to commit heinous acts.
What is the number one thing you want to resonate with people about the film?
To go out and live your adventure! There is so many amazing things this world has to offer. To take in the experience, learn from it, and give back to those that took you in. And most importantly, to know that we all have the power to create change.
This film was never intended to go in the direction it did. At first, we were like most travelers. We knew there was a conflict in the region and tried to avoid it. But when we really started to experience the people and opened ourselves up to the experience, we became better people and humanitarian in our effort.
￼Visit Isolated.tv now to answer the call for change, and sign a petition asking the White House to address the human rights abuses in West Papua. Like LePera said, change comes from you. You can also pre-order the DVD here.