Judge Brett Cullum wonders if making a movie can ever be a nonprofit venture.
"We can't help everybody; we can only help who we can help."—Allison Thompson
Allison Thompson wrote a book about volunteering in Sri Lanka right after the tsunami, and this is footage that was shot during that time period by a camera crew that was there. She has taken what are essentially home movies of her time helping out a village as it recovers from a horrific natural disaster. The film has an altruistic sense of helping others in dire circumstances, but it also has this strange vibe of someone doing it all for the sake of a camera crew and a novel she is writing. Can supreme sacrifice be self serving at the same time? Regardless of those questions, The Third Wave is an incredible look at what it was like in Sri Lanka right after a huge earthquake and wave decimated the land and a way of life. It's hard not to feel something when you see a grandmother come to grips with the death of her daughter and her grandchild, and yet at the same time you wonder why a camera was there to record it. This is a film designed to make you want to volunteer to make a difference somewhere, but perhaps it sometimes goes a bit far in patting itself on the back a little too often.
This film was executive produced by Super Size Me mastermind Morgan Spurlock along with humanitarian Oscar honoree Sean Penn, but really they came in after the project was shot. The original plan was simple in that ten days after the tsunami hit the coast of Sri Lanka on Dec. 26, 2004 filmmaker Allison and her producer husband Oscar Gubernati set out to the scene to offer aid. TV reports had moved them to take action. They found a devastated hamlet called Peraliya, and with two other volunteers set up camp and started coordinating relief efforts. Other volunteers began showing up to help them; there seemed to be many who were rejected by other organizations. These were people who just stumbled in much like the filmmakers. They had no plan other than to offer help in whatever way they could. The crew and their companions spent six months helping to reconstruct civilization, took a month off, and then came back for a seven month stint again. The villagers seemed mostly appreciative, although there were quite a few who criticized the helpers of not directing their efforts where they wished. There comes a point in the film where it feels like an uprising may occur, but goodness wins out ultimately. Either that or the cameras promised documentation of any criminal actions.
The DVD presents the film in a straightforward way with no frills or fancy footwork. It has a clean and crisp transfer that displays the digital video documentary footage nicely enough. Of course there are dark patches now and then, but that is to be expected given the guerilla style in which it was shot. A simple stereo track accompanies the rough visuals. When they are needed subtitles pop up to translate for a mumble or a foreign phrase. Bonus materials include an expanded look at "Football without Boundaries" which was another charitable project undertaken by the group. We also get pictures from both Sri Lanka and Haiti set to inspirational music. "Updates on the Volunteers" and "The Third Wave Book" offer text based fill-ins for what happened to everybody as well as describing the project's literary version.
The Third Wave is a moving picture, and there are moments when it shocks with how frank and raw it is. They show the discovery of dead bodies and the camera doesn't flinch away at all. It's a great story, and one that should be told about the beauty of volunteering. The only issue is that these angels of mercy also know that they are making a movie, so you have to wonder if they held back things for the camera. If they jutted out their chin just a bit more, held fast to their convictions for a good scene, or if all of this truly was just an altruistic impulse to make the world a better place. It works on many levels, and it is a fascinating piece that makes you wonder if people do good things for the sake of them or the for the ability to talk about them later on. The best part is a small village was helped out a lot in the wake of a horrific act of nature, and they have the film footage to prove it.
Guilty of cinematic charity.
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