Big vs Small
Minna Dufton’s inspirational documentary Big vs Small centres around Portugal’s first female big wave surfer, Joana Andrade. She’s passionate, fiery, and determined to push herself to new limits by overcoming her fears. In this case, she aims to return to the gigantic waves of Nazaré, Portugal, and to do so she enlists the help of Finnish free diver Johanna Nordblad, who’s renowned for record-setting feats in freezing conditions.
Dufton’s film is unlike any other documentary of this kind. It pushes the narrative of Andrade’s journey to the background and turns her experience into a thoughtful meditation on human spirit and its near limitless capabilities. These two women are nothing less than incredible; their shared philosophy is that human beings are capable of learning so many new things, if they put in the effort. Though a tad clichéd, seeing Andrade submerge herself outside her comfort zone in the icy waters of Finland proves that there’s truth to this message.
It’s not all smooth surfing, however – the structure is a tangle of ideas that can’t quite come together into a cohesive whole. The opening is like any other documentary introduction: time with Andrade and her family, as they fill us in about her background and childhood love for the water. There’s no doubt that she’s deeply taken by her sport, but the filmmaker is unable to translate the surfer’s euphoria to viewers. It’s only when she joins Nordblad on the ice that the film clicks, finally giving viewers a sense of what this experience means to her.
When the narrative is riding high and Andrade has gained the confidence she can once again overcome her anxieties, the conclusion (or rather lack thereof) comes, and everything comes crashing into the water. Because there has never been a central focal point for the narrative to anchor itself around, Dufton doesn’t seem to know how to end the story. The final few minutes are spent floundering among a random collection of talking heads, who spin hollow cliches that don’t add much.
Andrade is an inspirational character we can all learn something from. The jumbled structure of this documentary, however, muddies those lessons.
Big vs Small is released at Glasgow Film Festival on 2nd March 2021. It does not yet have a UK release date.
Read more reviews from our Glasgow Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Glasgow Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Big vs Small here: