The Sixth Annual Tribeca Film Festival presented the World Premiere of The Third Wave, an Alison Thompson Documentary and Morgan Spurlock Production, based on the experiences of four aid workers in aftermath of the December 2004 Tsunami that decimated Sri Lanka and other countries bordering the Indian Ocean.
The documentary begins with scenes of Sri Lanka BT, Before Tsunami, that revel a majestic beauty and some of the best beaches the world has to offer. These scenes are forever on film, in pictures, postcards, memories and photo albums. Sri Lanka will not see them again for some time.
The documentary quickly moves to news footage and the riveting story of devastation that began in December 2004 with a massive earthquake registering 9.0, at minimum, on the Richter scale, sending a circular wall of water, in every direction. Unstoppable without landfall, the wave gathered strength until it hit the shores of Sri Lanka.
The world is familiar with the scenes of unknown vacationers and locals swept away by the force of the water. Floating debris became deadly for some and life-saving for others. Unprecedented devastation destroyed entire villages. Hundreds of thousands died and as many more were left homeless and displaced. Due to technological advances and the availability of video cameras, within hours the world witnessed the same deadly devastations.
The film moves from the devastation to Alison's living room as she begins to weave scenes of her reaction to the news and the strength of her commitment to assist the cleanup effort. A missionary at heart and believer in biblical doctrine, she convinced her partner, Oscar Gubernati, that she felt moved in her heart to go and assist in any way possible.
They received the financial backing necessary to cover the flight and purchased as much food, water and medical supplies as possible. The two headed off to Sri Lanka with no plan and a belief that they were on a two-week immediate need assistance trip. This became a fifteen-month odyssey of hope and help for thousands.
The role of Humanitarian Aid worker is not a profession for Alison or Oscar. They are typical artists living on Manhattan's Upper East Side pursuing their film making careers. She is a filmmaker and he is an Italian Producer. Their venture into humanitarian work came after September 11, 2001 when they, like all Americans and specifically New Yorkers, watched in horror as their city was assaulted beyond comprehension. In addition, like all New Yorkers and others who felt an inner drawing, they picked up shovels and began to help. Or in Alison's case, it was a medical kit she picked up as she went to work as a triage specialist.
After the plane landed, these two met two others, Donny Paterson, an Australian ex-Army engineer, and Bruce French of Telluride, Colorado who is the personal Chef for the rock group Pearl Jam. As only a Higher Power could maneuver the circumstances, four strangers met at the airport. These four individuals accepted a divine calling and flew in unbeknownst to each other from different countries without any plan, idea, or thought, only the motivation to help and to do what they could in the short amount of time with the limited finances available. Immediate Need Assistance Worker: No forms necessary.
The documentary details the efforts of these four misfit aid workers who began an Immediate Needs Assistance Program. Having only the skills they used in real life, filmmaker, producer, chef, and Australian ex-military man. They rented a van, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, loaded it with supplies and headed south without road map or atlas. They traveled the coast and stopped in Peraliya. The devastation was beyond words and imaginations.
They happened on a school resting on slightly elevated pylons that had school chairs and other debris lodged in the roof. The full height of the wave appeared, from the placement of the debris, to be at least 25 feet high. The school became a local terminal for the sick, injured, hungry, homeless, and anyone else who happened upon these workers who did not discriminate in Aid.
As filmmaker's they were able to get first hand video of some never before seen images of the Queen of the Sea Express. This passenger train was filled to overflowing with 1500 holiday travelers when the wave hit with such a massive force. Turning the tracks into a twisted roller coaster display of destruction: The passenger cars were tossed like toys: bodies indiscriminately strewn, limbs severed, the destruction did not discriminate. Everyone suffered and most died.
The documentary moves from showing the camp in raw form and completing the tasks necessary to survive today or immediate needs assistance to a full running refugee camp. As the months progressed, the Post Traumatic Shock began to exhibit itself in both workers and refuges. At a cultural disadvantage and a desire to help all, the workers were unprepared for the uprising that began as they helped local BT social outcasts, thieves and prostitutes, before those who were before the Tsunami affluent or at least not outcasts. The locals began to issue death threats against the workers.
With devastation of this magnitude and help pledged but slow to arrive much of the daily needs decisions were left up to those who had set themselves up as leaders. There were days, and the images are graphic, of body part collection. There was no other option but to collect the rotting bodies and body parts that were carried from the sea and torn from the train and bury them.
The film is quick to show how tragedy brought four people and then a fifth together and how the bond created kept them together even when the strongest, Donny, became sick and went home with no obligation to the four only a sense of unfinished work he returned to the now thriving refugee, village center.
By the end of the documentary, the camp is a continual stop for aid workers who happened onto this fully operational refugee and displaced family camp that was not controlled by local governments, World Aid organizations, or tribal control. The aid workers met with others who were in this for one reason: To help. To help unconditionally; to offer hearts, shoulders, muscles, ideas, prayer, and hope.
The film is graphic in the facts of the life that these workers faced immediately and for months after the Tsunami. The reaction to the movie is one of amazement: Over the devastation, the coincidence meetings, the dedication to assistance, the uprising, the destruction. This film is in limited release.
The assistance these four individuals provided created, before one World Aid Organization began any rebuilding efforts, 500 new homes. Four people following a divine calling did make a difference.