Arcata Eye Scene

A-town art, music, theatre. Mostly music. Updated Wednesdays.

‘Bra Boys’ – tribal perspective continues at Broadway Cinema

 

My typical newspaper interview involves questions – often over drinks at the Alibi – such as “So, when did you guys get together?” and “How much input do you each have when it comes to writing the songs?” Or, “What does your family think about your career choice?”

Simple, fun, useful, done. But every so often, a different opportunity comes up. This week, it arrived in an email asking if I wanted a screener of Bra Boys and/or to set up an interview with Sunny Abberton.

The film covers the story of the “Bra Boys,” a notorious surf tribe in Maroubra, Australia, from their perspective. Initally conceived by Maroubra native and former pro surfer Sunny Abberton as a way to combat negative media portrayals of the Bra Boys as thugs, the film ended up chronicling not only the Abberton brothers (mostly Sunny, Jai and big wave charger Koby – littlest brother Dakota is mentioned, but not a part of the movie) history, but also covering Jai’s arrest for murder (a charge he was cleared of) and Koby’s subsequent trial for obstructing justice.

Of course, I said yes. The movie’s rough, both technically and thematically, but the story compels nonetheless – at least if you’re a surfer or otherwise interested in the sort of tribal subcultures created by socioeconomic factors.

Because the movie’s playing in Eureka, and because the Eye‘s pages typically fill up with purely Arcata happenings, I opted to interview Sunny as part of my day job on KSLG 94.1 FM. (My typical radio interviews revolve around good causes: improving bike safety, preventing drug abuse, ensuring access to birth control.)

Sunny called into the radio station from his temporary new home in Los Angeles. He’s been going all around the world with the film, but for “an aspiring filmmaker,” L.A. remains the place to be.

In the release for Bra Boys, the group is described as having an international reputation for “hard partying and rough justice,” as well as a “running battle with authorities.”

Sunny elaborated. Unlike America, he said, 90 percent of Australians live on the coast. The difference in geography factors in, too – the Australia coast is full of headlands and bays, thus every beach and every headland has their own club – “tribe,” if you will. In Maroubra, the tribe’s surroundings included both the country’s largest sewage pipe and jail, “a really negative infrastructure.”

The jail looming from the hilltop reflected the population in its shadows, Sunny continued. “There’s a lot of violence in the film, but I’m not trying to glorify that, just trying to show the realistic environment we grew up in and a lot of kids growing up in projects around the world face daily.” This theme, of the violence being the reality, repeated throughout our interview.

“I walked in on my mom shooting up heroin and then my mom’s boyfriend jumped up and hit me with a baseball bat and told me to get out of the house.” – Koby Abberton, explaining why he moved in with brother Sunny at age 13.

It was violence that sparked the idea of making Bra Boys. Specifically, a clash between surfers and cops, widely reported on Australian news.

“It was a party planner’s worst nightmare,” Sunny said. “Three hundred police had their Christmas party on the second floor of the club and we, the local boardriders’ community, were on the first floor.” When the respective parties ended, the mix in the hallway proved explosive.

The resultant negative publicity convinced Sunny to tell the Bra Boys’ story from their perspective. He started researching Maroubra’s history and found the persecution of the poor had existed for as long as the country had been colonized. That aspect compelled him to stay true to course, despite an unexpected turn of events.

“Six months in, Jai was charged with murder and Koby [with] accessory to murder,” Sunny recalled. When asked if he ever considered putting the film on hold, he said no. “As a filmmaker, I had to show that struggle. As a filmmaker, I had to keep the cameras rolling even when I wasn’t sure where it was going to end.

“When I researched it and saw how connected it was, that people in our community had been facing this conflict… At the end of the film, there’s a ‘Rest in Peace’ section. It’s all these people who were caught in this struggle and didn’t make it. So it was really empowering for me to finish and show no matter what happened.”

He’s hoping kids who see the film, particularly those kids whose parents suffer from drug addiction or poverty will be similarly empowered and realize “no matter what, you can break through that adversity.”

Despite the lack of parental care, the Abberton boys found nuturance not only in their peers, but also in “Ma,” Sunny’s grandmother. She’s one of the few women in Bra Boys and a pivotal character: it was at Ma’s place that the core of what would be the Bra Boys (but were then Ma’s Hell Team) formed. Ma Abberton passed away in 2005, but her legacy carries on through the Mavis Abberton foundation to help at-risk kids refocus their energy from destructive behavior to constructive via the line-up.

An unofficial example of this is shown when Koby takes Jess One of Bra Boysmore heart-in-throat moments happens not during a fight scene, but watching 14-year-old Jess Pollock surf – and tumble – waves resembling freight trains. When asked about the placing of a young kid in what appears to be mortal danger, Sunny explained it as a good thing. That’s what the older guys do, he said. “We tell [the kids], if you think you’re tough, don’t go out there and shoot someone, let’s go surf 10-foot waves in 30 centimeters of water, a meter away from the rocks, then. If you think you’re tough, let’s go.”

That might be a lot of pressure, he conceded, but certainly no less pressure than the drugs or crime Maroubra’s youth might otherwise accede to.

In other words, Maroubra, like urban areas around the globe, is a place of extremes.

And what about the pressure of filming your birthplace, your home, your family, all while two of the people you love most in the world are facing jail time?

 “My next movie’s going to be so much easier,” Sunny laughed.

 

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