Interview: The Westerly Windina Documentary
Big Sky Wire: Jamie Brisick on Westerly: A Man, A Woman, An Enigma
Big Sky Wire is a regular Coastalwatch column produced by Michele Lockwood & Andrew Kidman. This week, Michele Lockwood speaks to author, filmmaker & ex pro surfer Jamie Brisick about his upcoming documentary on one of surfing's most interesting icons.
A few weeks ago we were graced by the presence of a dear old friend by the name of Jamie Brisick. It had been a few years since we last saw Jamie and over a fine bottle of red, he told us of his latest project, a documentary called, ‘Westerly: A Man, A Woman, An Enigma.’
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the film is about Gold Coast surf legend Peter Drouyn’s transformation from man to woman. Peter is now known as Westerly Windina and the film follows her through the highs and lows that incur with this dramatic metamorphosis.
CW: Did you ever have the opportunity to meet Peter? How did your friendship with Westerly originate?
JB: No, I never met Peter. I met Westerly in 2009. I was in Australia on a working holiday. Before my trip I met with Scott Hulet, editor of The Surfer’s Journal. I asked him if there were any stories he’d like me to pursue. He mentioned Peter/Westerly. Somehow I’d missed the press Westerly had received when she “came out”. When I finally saw it, I was surprised at how insensitive the surf media was. She wasn’t taken seriously. Her transformation seemed more an opportunity for a witty headline than an effort to understand her. I’ve always felt like an outsider in the surf world, so I felt a certain kinship with Westerly. I called her and asked if she’d be interested in doing a piece for The Surfer’s Journal. She said yes. We met at an Italian restaurant on the Gold Coast and talked for a couple hours. Countless phone conversations followed. It was the most thoroughly researched profile I’ve ever written.
How would you describe your relationship with Westerly? How often do you speak to each other?
Our relationship has been intense and brutally honest. We’re friends, but I’m also a journalist/documentarian, so it’s about striking that balance, remembering the nature of our relationship. I really appreciate Westerly. She’s one of the most unique people I’ve ever met. We keep in touch pretty regularly.
Watching the trailer for Westerly: A Man, A Woman, An Enigma online, I couldn’t help but think of how fine a line there is to tread between provoking the sensational and retaining the sensitivity to Westerly’s story. Do you feel this is a particularly challenging aspect of the project? Do you ever feel you want to protect Westerly in a way from the dangers that might ensue from this kind of exposure?
Westerly is theatrical. She thinks in a Willy Wonka/PT Barnum-esque manner. So yes, it’d be easy to sway toward the sensational. But she’s also very honest. It’s as if she’s turned inside out at times, narrating her own transformation from a sort of meta- perspective. My co-writer/director, Alan White and I try to stay impartial, fly on the wall, objective. As far as protecting Westerly goes, yes, definitely, I want to see her happy, I want to see her realize herself.
It seems a lot of people in the surf community, are having a hard time accepting Westerly Windina? She is seen as a farce staging a publicity stunt to gain attention after having been out of the public eye for so long. This complication comes rolled up in a tight ball of dealing with a sort of identity theft coupled with the death of Peter Drouyn, as the world knew him. What Westerly represents makes a lot of people uncomfortable, they have no tools for approaching/accepting/understanding her and with that comes anger. How does Westerly cope with this? So far, has this project helped catalyse any breakthroughs in people’s acceptance of Westerly?
I think Westerly has a hard time with the bigotry and intolerance she’s suffered. More than once I’ve wondered why she lives where she does. It’s a beautiful part of the world, but it lacks diversity and an open-minded spirit. It’s no wonder so many members of the LGBT community end up in big cities. They’re generally more accepting. They allow self-exploration without becoming the neighbourhood pariah. Since we started the project we’ve had notes from people offering Westerly lots of support. It’s so good to see, and means a lot to her.
I love the name Westerly Windina. It captures so much of the imagination in just two words, it is theatrical, romantic, playful and of course, it sets the scene for the perfect surf conditions – the warm offshore day we all pine for. I see it as Westerly’s ode to the spirit of Peter Drouyn, which is embedded in the connection that the name ‘Westerly Windina’ represents. A lovely homage to the man whom some mourn. What do you see when you look at Westerly?
I see a beautiful, fragile, vulnerable person trying to find herself. I see confusion and contradictions. Westerly lives in a sort of inside out, flayed open manner. It’s as if she’s saying, “Look at what it feels like to be human.” I admire her courage. Through her I learn about myself.
Last we spoke, you were leaving the next morning on a plane headed for Bangkok. It was an unexpected decision the day before by Westerly to make the final step in completing her transformation as she decided to undergo her gender reassignment surgery. How was the trip? Can you tell us if she did follow through with the surgery and also do you think she would have made the decision had your camera crews not been present?
The trip was excellent. We laughed a lot. It was wonderful to see Westerly in an environment where she was not the neighborhood freak. Cab drivers, hotel staff, waiters, and store clerks all treated her with great respect. I honestly do not know if she in fact went through with the surgery. We left before she was scheduled to have it. Regarding her final decision, I think that was in place long before we entered the picture.
What do you most look forward to with the completion of this film?
I hope we make a kick-arse, riveting film that inspires compassion and tolerance.
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