Days after its world premiere screening in the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam's ornate and cavernous main venue at the Cinema Tuschinski in the city center, fest-goers were still talking about Uruguayan director Gonzalo Arijon's "Stranded." Though the film, at least for now, comes in at a lengthy 130 minutes and is in Spanish (with subtitles), the audience remained riveted by the story about the survivors of a plane crash in the South American Andes 35 years ago. The film, which had its world premiere at IDFA, profiles the survivors today, who subsisted the ten weeks in the freezing weather by consuming the remains of those who died after the plane went down.
Of the 45 original passengers, who were flying to Chile for a rugby match from Uruguay in 1972, only 16 survived the ordeal, which captured the world's attention with the whole cannibalism issue making for salacious headlines. In the film, Arijon takes the survivors and their children back to the disaster scene. The story is also re-told through deftly crafted re-enactments which many seasoned doc vets who attended the screening in Amsterdam agreed worked quite well.
Still, some wondered aloud whether a lengthy doc about an incident three decades, told in Spanish would transcend festival notoriety into the increasingly challenging world of theatrical distribution in the U.S. But, the film received a big boost Wednesday following the announcement it had been accepted in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival's world documentary competition. Nevertheless, in public at least, the director trumpeted the personal nature of the story when asked why he felt now was the time to make the film.
"Thirty years is a good distance [of time to pass] to have this film made," said Arijon speaking in accented English after a rapturous first screening. "It was necessary to do this film for me. I'm friends with a lot of the survivors."
"Gonzalo has wanted to do this story so badly for 2 1/2 to 3 years," added producer Marc Silvera. But for us, it was a strong responsibility that the survivors enjoyed the movie -- that was the most important."
One survivor, Eduardo Strauch gave his approval by traveling to Amsterdam for the world premiere, receiving a standing ovation after being introduced after the showing. "We survived because we are just human beings. We have an incredible machine in our heads and souls. I was proud to be a human after the accident -- not before..." Strauch went on to comment that Arijon had difficulty persuading the 16, all still alive survivors, to agree to participate in the documentary, and continued to reflect on how the accident has affected his life up to the present. "Even after 35 years, I'm not living the same life I lived before the accident. It was hard to again live a normal life."
Fellow IDFA title "Up the Yangtze" by Yung Chang, also a festival favorite, will join "Stranded" in Park City in January in the world doc competition. The film profiles the upheaval taking place in China's Yangtze River following the completion of the country's massive Three Gorges Dam. While examining the larger story of the displacement of millions due to the rising waters, the film also tells the personal story of one resident who works a cruise ship that caters to Westerners on the river. Though she wants to attend university, her family cannot afford to send her, and the water is also swallowing her family's meager existence along the river.
Not surprisingly, American political docs are well represented in Amsterdam this year. Joan Brooker-Marks' "Larry Flynt - The Right to be Left Alone" managed to usher in a huge audience on a weekday screening at IDFA's Tuschinski. The film takes a look at the impact the charismatic Hustler founder has had on the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which, among other rights, protects freedom of speech. Told through footage and with present-day interviews with Flynt himself, the doc recalls his trials, including his infamous assassination attempt during a recess in a 1978 trial, to his Supreme Court case, which pitted him against televangelist Jerry Falwell.
"I love him," commented Brooker-Marks during the post-screening Q&A about Flynt. "I think he's wonderful in so many ways. [I appreciate] his love for the First Amendment... I fear for the loss of our Bill of Rights." Continuing she added, "I was making this film and just watched how politicians [in the U.S.] were taking away our rights for their own political ambitions."
IDFA concludes this weekend in Amsterdam.