Long before there was “Big Brother”, “Survivor”, “Love Island” or any number of other reality television programs that captivated audiences yearning secretly for sex and disaster among the stranded “contestants,” there was the plan of anthropologist Santiago Genevés.
It was 1973, the Vietnam War was raging, and he wanted to know: why do we fight?
His answer was to commission the building of Acali, a boxy, metal raft, then place adverts in newspapers around the world looking for a crew, and then join them all on a three-month experiment/journey across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Mexico.
The multi-national crew were deliberately selected by Genevés for their good looks and alternate religious, family and ethnic backgrounds (which he felt would offer the most potential for conflict), and really did come from all walks of life.
It sounds potentially perfect, right? Isolated far out at sea, things would surely happen.
All those selected for the crew knew about the lack of privacy there would be on board, the regular, intimate questionnaires they’d have to answer, and yet, despite being utter strangers who might not even speak the same language, their interest in adventure overcame their fears.
It was a different time, that was for sure.
What Genevés and his hand-picked subjects got – of course – was something different than expected, and though the tabloids titillated with the idea of a “sex raft,” what happened on board revealed much more.
In this documentary, a wooden model raft just like the original is constructed and the remining living seven members from the crew go back “onboard” again, talking openly, revealing some unspoken thoughts, listening to audio from the journey, and even recreating some of their experiences.
Standout among them is the female captain Maria Björnstam, who still seems to burn with internal anger at what Genevés did, and you wish he was still alive to answer for himself now (his notes narrate the documentary via the voiceover of Daniel Giménez Cacho).
Some elements are unclear (just how much nautical training did the crew get; what were the circumstances regarding the supply of food and cigarettes, something you might imagine could easily cause arguments, and did the crew stay in touch in the intervening time?).
Receiving only its second public screening at the current Melbourne International Film Festival in Australia, this documentary will certainly be floating your way soon.
Compelling and often shocking, it certainly puts every ersatz TV version we see today to shame; these people weren’t looking for their 15 minutes, nor were cameras and internet streams showing their every move. They really were out there.