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Documentarian finds common ground with Indonesian athletes

April 8, 2011

Half a world away, Darcy Turenne found common ground.

The Royal Roads University student and professional mountain bike rider traveled to Bali, Indonesia to capture the stories of young women in extreme sports for a documentary. What she found along the way were cultural surprises and amazing similarities to her own athletic career.

"It's not frowned upon, but it's very unattainable," Turenne says of the Indonesian sports scene for women. "The goal (of the documentary) is to inspire people to just follow their passions."

The documentary, called The Eighth Parallel, is Turenne's thesis for her MA in Intercultural and International Communication. Relatively new to work behind the camera, Turenne has considerable experience in front of one as her talent on a bike garnered her stunt work and a stint as the host of The Ride Guide.

"Having the spotlight as a mountain biker really made me want to retreat and be behind the camera," she says.

She bought her Canon 7D camera roughly seven months ago and actively launched herself into the vibrant world of film. Her Vimeo site hosts videos that showcase the local ski hill, Mount Washington, to a lighthearted love story about a girl and her backpack. Dancing With India is the first documentary she made for school.

Shot in October 2010, Turenne offers a whirlwind tour of the senses in less than four minutes. Set to her words and recorded by a classmate, the film juxtaposes the beautiful colours and movements of the country against the putrid smells and chaos of its busy streets. "They were the most beautiful things I had ever seen and the most savage things I had ever seen," she says.

"By the time it was due I hadn't let the experience really sink in yet," she says, noting that added to the feel of the film. She spent five weeks in India and one week editing the piece.

Work on her thesis project started months ago. Turenne knew she wanted to focus on female athletes, but her research has taken her in unexpected directions. She had planned to tell the story of female boxers in Afghanistan but safety concerns left her looking elsewhere.

"I wanted a male dominated society that was safe to travel in," she says. Indonesia presented itself as the best fit and it didn't hurt that the avid surfer could hit the waves every day.

With her eye on Bali, Turenne started scouring the Internet to find her interview subjects from afar. She canvassed online forums and called on connections she had. Through a Bali rock climbing club she found sisters 17-year-old Rin and 15-year-old Lasti Riantini from Seminyak, Bali. Turenne is sponsored by Oakley and through connections with that company she found surfer Jasmine Tiara Haskrell, 25, also from Seminyak. Based in Surabaya, Java, mountain bike racer Risa Suseanty, 30, was a fan of Turenne's on Facebook and motocross racer Kirana Anastasua, 12, was easy enough to track down as the only girl currently competing in Indonesia.

Physically connecting with these women was harder. What little contact she did secure ended in instructions to contact them once she arrived in Bali. No one was interested in setting hard and fast plans, she says. So with a lot of faith, Turenne boarded a plane and headed for Indonesia. She landed, got a cellphone and got to work. It didn't take long for her to realize Bali was on a different schedule than she was used to.

"I spent most of my time waiting," she says, noting it was frustrating to watch the sun arch across the sky, taking with it the best light as she waited for her interview subjects to arrive. "Everything was amazing though. It was the most incredible place I've been."

Her interviews captured the athlete's opinions, but also those of their families and local communities. Daily responsibilities make it hard for women to be competitive in sport, she says, even if the community supports them. Women of all ages play an important role in the home, whether it is in cooking or cleaning, or preparing for daily religious rituals.

"These girls were very unique in their situations, yet they didn't realize how unique they were," she says. "If a girl gets hurt or is away it really throws off the whole dynamic of the family."

It was very common for a male influence in the house to have gotten them into their sport, she says. Many of them competed either because a male family member did or at the urging of an uncle or father. Regardless of how they got involved, "all of them had such passion for their sport," she adds.

The community feedback caught Turenne by surprise. People were supportive of women in support, but not necessarily their own daughters. There were factors to consider, like how it would affect their marriage prospects, she says. There wasn't one interviewee that didn't mention concerns that involvement in sport would lead to suntans.

Concerns over injury and perception revealed themselves to be universal as Turenne listened to parents cite the same reasons to avoid sport that her own did. Her parents had the same concerns over her getting hurt, or being too much of a tomboy, she says.

Turenne has until June to turn 60 hours of film into a cohesive representation of these women's lives. It is her hope that people will take simple inspiration to go their own paths, despite cultural opposition, from her work.

"And to show we are all struggling with the same things," she adds.

Turenne's story telling medium is not new, but the way she is able to use it is, says Phillip Vannini, MA in Communications program head and Turenne's thesis advisor.

"What's new about it she is using high definition digital video, in her case it allows her to do the work of a photo journalist. She doesn't have a camera crew and she doesn't have to face a high cost, that's what is revolutionary about it," he says. "That's the potential of it all - the promise is to make research at the MA level publically accessible."

Students in the program are given free rein to deliver their thesis in the medium of their choice. Producing a visual project is no more challenging than a traditional thesis, Vannini says, as both have structures and standards that need to be adhered to. Turenne's thesis stands out because it has the potential to attract a large audience.

"I have seen a lot of a plus papers and I have been the only one to read them," he says. "I would rather see a project that is less concerned with the grade it's going to get and more concerned with getting a big audience."

Now entrenched in the editing process, Turenne muses that getting that message together is something that fittingly is unfolding "slowly, slowly" on Bali time.

Watch Darcy Turenne's documentary 

The Eighth Parallel from Darcy Turenne on Vimeo.