The majority of film and TV production in British Columbia is typically centered in and around the Metro Vancouver Area with a healthy dose of activity occurring on Vancouver Island. I’ve been noticing in recent years however, that the Okanagan region in B.C.’s interior has been carving out an ever larger slice of the provincial film pie. From larger blockbusters (Power Rangers) to award-winning indie films (Until Branches Bend) to a humming cottage industry of made-for-television movies that yours truly has had a hand in editing (Been There All Along, Just Like a Christmas Movie), the communities surrounding Okanagan lake have been working overtime to weave themselves and their stories into Canada’s cinematic fabric.
The latest work of peach-scented celluloid to cross my desk is Wild Goat Surf, the debut feature of director Caitlyn Sponheimer. Like last week’s Seagrass, it is a period piece, only this time zeroing in the summer resort town of Penticton in the early 2000s. Rell “Goat” Anderson (Shayelin Martin) is staying rent-free at an RV park with her ever-youthful-looking mother Jane (Sponheimer) while they illegally sublet their bungalow to passing tourists. With school out and Jane working two jobs to keep gas in the tank and food on the table, Goat finds creative ways to waste time which mostly involve petty theft and daydreaming of becoming a world-class surfer like her late father.
Her routine gets shaken up when the shy Nate (Leandro Guedes) rolls into the park with his family for the summer. Contrasting yet complimentary, the two form a strong bond as they find new ways to get into trouble around Penticton while rubbing elbows with the eccentric locals. Their rebellious streak begins to catch up with them however as consequences mount and potentially threaten Goat’s friendship with Nate and her mother’s already precarious position in the community.
Sponheimer utilizes Penticton to its utmost, whether sunny or smokey. Period pieces on indie film budgets are notoriously difficult to pull off, but Sponheimer stages her scenes effectively, deftly bringing the pre-social media days of the early 2000s to life, careful to never slip tinto tacky nostalgia.
Young Shaylelin Martin capably makes Goat her own, nailing the ever awkward stage between child and teenager. Sponheiemr wears her triple-threat hat well as the still youthful, but exhausted-from-adulting Jane just trying to keep herself and her daughter above a rising poverty line (some things never change, eh?). They get capable support from both the Vancouver actors and locally-based players (I had fun spotting many familiar faces from Kelowna-shot films that I’ve cut).
As much commendation as I can give the film for its setup and characters, I feel a sense of frustration at story direction. Whether it’s unsatisfying arcs or just characters making startlingly stupid decisions, what feels like the result of under-done script revisions dampens my enthusiasm for the film in the final act.
Wild Goat Surf scores as an endearing character piece with style to spare, even if it stumbles somewhat coming into home plate. There’s a distinct film voice rising in BC’s interior and I look forward to seeing more of it, whether at festivals or cable TV.
Wild Goat Surf premieres as part of VIFF on Friday, Sept 29, 6pm @ The Rio Theatre