Friday, December 12, 2008

Stranded (Rhoades)

‘Stranded’ Offers First-Hand Tale of Survival

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’ve heard the story before – the planeload of Uruguayan rugby players that crashed in the Andes. There was a movie about it called “Alive” that starred Ethan Hawke and Vincent Spano.
Now here’s “Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane that Crashed in the Mountains” – a no-holds-barred documentary opening today at the Tropic Cinema – that gives you a first-hand recounting of “one of the most astonishing and inspiring survival tales of all time.”

On October 13, 1972, the young ruby team boarded Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 for a match in Chile, the atmosphere one of excitement and expectation. But soon after takeoff the plane hit a snow-covered mountainside, shattering into pieces. Amazingly, there were survivors.
Now thirty-five years later, they return to the crash site (known as the Valley of Tears) to describe their ordeal for documentary filmmaker Gonzalo Arijon, a boyhood friend of the players.

Through these on-location interviews, archival footage, and reenactments, Arijon captures the horror, the indestructible fortitude, and ultimately the inspiration of this event.
Stranded in the mountains for more than 70 days, 29 initial survivors faced a life-and-death struggle against the elements – and their own ethical feelings as they are forced to cannibalism. 

“Either we do it, or die” was the unavoidable consensus.

Hearing on their radio that the search had been called off, they realized they would have to get out on their own. But they were trapped in a basin where the plane crashed, surrounded by snow and mountainous terrain, and the threat of avalanches. At one point they get buried in the hull of their airliner for three days, finally digging out, at the cost of more lives.
Finally, two “expeditionaries” managed to climb out and trek through the Andes until they came to a path leading them to shepherds tending livestock. A helicopter was dispatched to rescue the others, an ending that is both joyous and poignant. Of 45 passengers, 16 were alive in the end.

What’s remarkable about this telling is that the words come from the survivors themselves, as they vividly recall the monotony, the fear, and the near-death experiences – describing the ordeal as “coming back to life.”

Today, most of the survivors live as neighbors in the same village where they grew up, but closer now, almost like a family. It’s their brave return to the crash site and their first-hand accounts that make this film remarkable.

A four-year project, Arijon has produced a powerful and well-crafted documentary. The film won the Joris Ivens Award at the 2007 Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival, and was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Less sensational than the dramatized movie “Alive,” more intimate that the book of the same name, it’s a rare occasion where you hear from those who were actually stranded by a plane crash in the mountains.

Piers Paul Read, author of the 1974 book, wrote that “some of them were disappointed by my presentation of their story. They felt that the faith and friendship which inspired them in the cordillera do not emerge from these pages. It was never my intention to underestimate these qualities, but perhaps it would be beyond the skill of any writer to express their own appreciation of what they lived through.”

“Stranded” doesn’t disappoint, for it doesn’t depend of the skill of a writer … just the words of the survivors themselves.
[from Solares Hill]

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