Review: The Raft
by Fabien Lemercier
- Sweden's Marcus Lindeen directs an exciting documentary about a scientific experiment on violence conducted at sea in 1973
"It all started with a plane hijacking in November 1972. (…) It was too good to be true! Imagine the irony: me, a scientist who had studied violence my entire career, in the midst of such a drama! All my life, I’ve wanted to know why people fight and really understand what's going on in our minds (...) When the hostage situation ended, I realised that if I could create a similar situation, it would be the perfect experiment to study human behaviour. But how to isolate a group of people and expose them to danger? So, I came up with an idea.” The researcher Santiago Genovés did indeed come up with an astonishing experiment, which the fascinating documentary The Raft [+see also:
interview: Marcus Lindeen
film profile] by the Swede Marcus Lindeen chooses to focus on – scooping up an award at the Copenhagen CPH: DOX festival and screened in the Hauteur programme at the 10th Les Arcs Film Festival.
Las Palmas, 11 May 1973: six women and five men set off on a journey across the Atlantic to Mexico for three months, aboard the Acali, a steel raft measuring just 12 metres by 7 metres, with no engine. Accompanied by Genovés, the ten volunteers were recruited by small ads ("in order to create tension in the group, I chose men and women of different nationalities, religions and social backgrounds: a microcosm of the world"). From the Swedish Maria (the first woman in the world to have a maritime command certificate) to the French Servane (scuba diver) and Rachida, to the Israeli Edna (the doctor on board), the Afro-American Fé and his compatriot Mary, the Japanese photographer Esuke, the Angolan Catholic priest Bernardo, the Uruguayan anthropologist Jose-Maria and the Greek Charles (owner of a restaurant in Cambridge), all participants were subjected to tough medical, physical and psychological tests prior to boarding the vessel ("What would you do if threatened? Would you kill someone? What would make you kill someone?").
The researcher's ambitions were immense: "We know that aggression can be triggered by putting different kinds of rats in a limited space. I wanted to find out if it's the same for humans. Is violence something that stretches back to our origins or something we learn? Will a group isolated on a raft cooperate in order to survive, or will the situation generate conflict and cause them to fight each other?” For this purpose, Genovés put in place several stratagems. First of all, he empowered women by leaving men with the least important activities. I was wondering if it would lead to less violence or more violence. Would the men become frustrated with the women in command and gradually try to regain power?" Then, given that "studies on monkeys have shown that there is a connection between violence and sexuality, the majority of conflicts between males being related to access to females, in order to verify if this was also the case with humans" the researcher "selected sexually attractive participants." But the 101-day trip still didn’t fail to surprise him...
Using a clever and rich mix of archives (numerous videos and photos from the experiment, a few TV reports, audio sources) and the current testimonies of seven of the "guinea pigs" gathered on a scale model of the vessel, The Raft proves to be an exciting and surprising documentary, despite a slight loss of tension in the final section.
Produced by the Swede Erik Gandini (director of Videocracy [+see also:
film profile]) for Fasad, The Raft will be released in France on 13 February via Urban Distribution and is being sold internationally by Wide House.
(Translated from French)
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