You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Third Wave

The (in)famous image of cig-puffing Sean Penn paddling a raft through watery New Orleans helps explain his plucking "The Third Wave."

With: Thompson, Gubernati, Donny Paterson, Bruce French.

The (in)famous image of cig-puffing Sean Penn paddling a raft through watery New Orleans helps explain his plucking from Amerindie sea of volunteer-recruitment docu “The Third Wave” to serve as Cannes fest’s first-ever jury prexy pick. Following efforts of four unpaid relief workers, including tyro docu-helmer and trained nurse Alison Thompson, to aid destitute Sri Lankan survivors of 2004’s Asian tsunami, unimpeachably well-intentioned pic runs arguably admirable risk of diluting both sales and activist potential via downbeat midsection devoted to detailing victim irritability and missionary burnout. But its “everyone is needed” message, literally spelled out at docu’s end and appearing well-timed as catastrophic disasters persist, hits hard enough to convert charitably minded auds, fest-sidebar bookers, farsighted broadcasters, and perhaps a stateside specialty distrib, preferably one partnered with grassroots orgs.

Decently lensed DV pic, named for mild outpour of volunteer aid that followed the pair of devastating tsunami waves, spans 19 weeks in lives of variably skilled Western visitors to tribal village of Peraliya, where more than 2,500 perished. Aussie-born, New York-based Thompson, a first-response rescue worker at Ground Zero for nine months after 9/11, heeds another call for help, traveling with producer beau and fellow volunteer worker Oscar Gubernati to Sri Lanka with camcorder in tow. Joining a small handful of other independent Western humanitarians, the pair sets up a first aid station and clocks long hours at a refugee camp — these efforts made in lieu of adequate NGO support. Villager Sunil Elvitigala is recruited as co-camera operator and eventually bears the brunt of one village woman’s frustration — “All you’ve done so far is watch,” she tells him.

Tech-wise, judicious use of post-prod sweetening delivers soft images that help disguise limitations of equipment and d.p. experience. Likewise, tricky tone of good will remains smooth except in offputting sequence whose flashy editing appears to equate the thuggishness of some village boys — the proverbial few bad apples — to scarcely defined Sri Lankan religious practice. If individual villagers, too, fall short in characterization, the omission at least reflects the reality that Red Cross bonnet-wearing Thompson — whose clinic at one point serves 1,000 patients per day — can’t often stop to chat.

Among the four go-getter volunteers at pic’s center, strongest impression is made by Donald “Donnie” Paterson, a baldheaded and mustachioed Australian Army vet whose swarthy humor — there to entertain both surviving villagers and film audience — gradually turns to despair and illness as exhaustion takes its toll. Early on, God-fearing, F-bomb-dropping Paterson energetically credits the “big fella upstairs” for the grand narrative that has him orchestrating the construction of a village toilet system; later, before taking a leave of absence, he tears up on camera while thinking of wife, kids, and dog back home Down Under.

Proceeding through optimism and inspiration as opposed to guilt-tripping, pic compares quite favorably to others in the pro-charity/anti-tragedy subgenre of U.S. docus, though it pales in comparison to Darfur film “The Devil Came on Horseback” and recent Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winner “Trouble the Water,” still the tradition’s two high-water marks. Though propulsive bongo music suits the docu’s galvanizing agenda from start to finish, end-credit revelation that volunteer Bruce French has worked as tour chef to Pearl Jam yields unfortunately timed laughs. Penn, reportedly alerted to the film by representatives of the Happy Hearts Fund, receives “presented by” credit on the digital print, whose occasional Sinhalese and Tamil dialogue is subtitled in English.

The Third Wave

Production: An Ozone Pictures/Walkabout Production, in association with Warrior Poets, Arts Alliance America, and Endless Films. (Sales: Cinetic Media, ContentFilm Intl..) Produced by Oscar Gubernati. Co-producers, Cedar Daniels, Jeremy Chilnick, Marco Franzoni, Sunil Elvitigala, Russ Terlecki. Associate producers, Paul O'Neil, Henry Jarecki, Tony Detre. Executive producers, Morgan Spurlock, Joe Amodei, Peter Demas, Kym Anthony, Jeffrey Tarrant, and Alison Thompson. Co-executive producers, Richard Belifiore, Dave Pederson. Directed by Thompson.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Elvitigala, Franzoni; editors, Daniels, Demas; music, Mario Grigorov, Jason Lanier. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (special screenings), May 16, 2008. Running time: 98 MIN.

With: With: Thompson, Gubernati, Donny Paterson, Bruce French.

More Film

  • Radegund

    Cannes Film Review: 'A Hidden Life'

    There are no battlefields in Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life” — only those of wheat — no concentration-camp horrors, no dramatic midnight raids. But make no mistake: This is a war movie; it’s just that the fight shown raging here is an internal one, between a Christian and his conscience. A refulgent return to form [...]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3

    Box Office: 'John Wick 3' Knocks Down 'Avengers: Endgame' With $57 Million Debut

    Earth’s Mightiest Heroes put up a good fight, but John Wick put at end to the three-week box office reign of “Avengers: Endgame.” Propelled by positive reviews, “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” beat expectations with a debut of $57 million from 3,850 North American locations. That was enough to nab the box office crown [...]

  • Game of Thrones Cast

    What's Next for 'Game of Thrones'' Cast Members

    Eight years and eight seasons later, the “Game of Thrones” cast finally has some downtime to relax or move onto other projects. Some stars, like Kit Harington, who told Variety that he doesn’t plan on taking another role as physically demanding as Jon Snow, certainly deserve a break, but others have wasted no time getting back on [...]

  • MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r)

    Submissions Now Welcome for Third 'Meet the Press' Film Festival

    Chuck Todd’s quest to bring “Meet the Press” to the movies continues. The third annual Meet the Press Film Festival, held in collaboration with the American Film Institute, will take place on October 6 and 7 in Washington, D.C., and remains a haven for issue-focused documentary shorts. Todd believes the event serves a critical mission: [...]

  • Challenges Still Keep Content From Traveling

    Cannes: Challenges Still Keep Content From Traveling to and From China

    Challenges still remain when it comes to buying, distributing and producing content that can travel between China and the West, attendees of a panel organized by the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival on the sidelines of Cannes said. Cai Gongming, president of Road Pictures, has hit box office gold in China with Cannes art-house titles such [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    Cannes Film Review: Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in 'The Lighthouse'

    “The Lighthouse,” the second feature directed by Robert Eggers (“The Witch”), is a gripping and turbulent drama that draws on a number of influences, though it merges them into its own fluky gothic historical ominoso art-thriller thing. Set in the 1890s, and suffused with foghorns and epic gusts of wind, as well as a powerfully [...]

  • Cannes: Diao Yinan Explains His Artistic

    Diao Yinan on Cannes Pic 'Wild Goose Lake': 'I Try to Portray the Opposite of a Utopia'

    In competition in Cannes with “Wild Goose Lake,” director Diao Yinan explained Sunday why he’s fascinated by dark crime thrillers – and why his new film features dialogue in China’s Wuhan dialect. “Such thrillers are not only an exercise in style; they’re also full of dramatic tension, and when you combine style with dramatic tension, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content