60 minutes. Release date: January 2006
Produced and Directed By: Paul Manly
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SOMBRIO is a an hour long documentary about the eviction of a diverse community of surfers and squatters that existed on the West Coast of Vancouver Island for more than thirty years. It centers on a family with ten children who grew up surfing on the beach and captures them and other residents over a two-year period, revealing their personal stories and convictions as they come to terms with their impending eviction. Sombrio presents a portrait of a vital subculture in BC’s history and challenges our notions of what it means to be a self-determined citizen.
“If I have a right to life I have a right to living space… I wasn’t born with dollars in my pocket. I shouldn’t have to chase the big buck all my life just for a place to live.” Barbara Oke.
“Ghandi said ‘live simply so others may simply live’ that’s a good quote for me… I’m living simple” David
Since the 1960’s, Sombrio Beach, a picturesque paradise of rainforest and beach on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, BC, has been home to a unique community of “squatters” living in a funky array of beach shacks. A magnet for surfers, social misfits, those who simply wanted off the modern grid, or to live a simpler life, the Sombrio community was an experiment in cooperation, anarchy and self-sufficiency. This ended in 1997 when the government evicted the squatters after the integration of Sombrio beach into the greater Juan de Fuca provincial park.
“Sombrio Beach” is about a sense of place and brings together the threads of sustainable lifestyle, history and ownership of land, and the stories of creative individuals who dared to live by their passion, skills and ingenuity away from the consumer world. The images of the ocean are stunning and the prowess of virtuoso surfers simply amazing. Carole Roy Ph.D Instructor Canadian Studies Trent University
Through rare and intimate interviews that were obtained through an established trust, combined with beautiful cinematography, Sombrio reveals a candid and poignant look at life, a contemplation and weighing of values, in the globalized postmodern world.
Sombrio is a project that is very close to my heart. I started camping on the beach over twenty five years ago when it was an hour long hike from a gravel logging road which ran along an isolated stretch of coast. The summer of my first visit was the same year that the Johnson-Oke family was getting established there. As a regular visitor to the beach, I have seen the changes over the years from logging and a closer access road to the influx of visitors and residents. I first got to know Rivermouth Mike, Steve and Barb after spending an unplanned week on the beach in 1992 reflecting on life. Mike set me up with an abandoned cabin and some cooking utensils, he introduced me to many other members of the community. After that, every time I camped on the beach I would camp between Mike and Steve and Barbs places. My daughter would play with Steve and Barbs children the whole time we were there. I always joked that Sombrio was my back up plan if I couldn’t cope with life in the fast lane anymore.
Sombrio is an important story because it was an example of self-sufficient living in the modern age. Most of the people living there had ideological reasons for doing so. They wanted to create a smaller footprint and disengage from the world of excessive consumption. Although it looked like easy street in the summer, living at Sombrio was not always easy and required perseverance and a lot of daily work. I admired Steve and Barb for their convictions and strength, raising ten children on the beach. They lived in a condition of poverty by western standards but compared to living in poverty in a rental unit in the city, they lived very rich lives on the beach. The authorities were aware of the community at Sombrio for many years but ignored it because it was out of the public eye. There were never serious problems with the community but once the government became interested in creating a park, the community was re-branded by the media as a bunch of rowdies and freeloaders. I made ‘Sombrio’ not just because it is an interesting story but because I also wanted to give the people in the community the respect they deserved.