Ten minutes in and you would be forgiven for thinking that documentarian Marcus Lindeen has struck gold with The Raft, a seemingly ready-made story of pioneering at its most ambitious and ill-fated. Charting the 1973 “peace project” experiment of anthropologist Santiago Genovés, for which he recruited a group of complete strangers to drift across the Atlantic Ocean onboard a steel raft, the film attempts to reconcile the fallout of a seaboard endeavor that was demeaned by the media and largely viewed as a failure. As it is, Lindeen’s approach to documenting the events generates decidedly mixed results; it’s far less successful when concerned with the effects of the study than the folly of embarking upon this effort in the first place.
The Raft thrives when it treats its subject as an Orwellian curio of sorts, its discussion of Genovés’s descent into megalomania and eventual manipulation of his subjects exemplifying how difficult it is to make research truly organic. In this way, the man’s venture foreshadows the voyeuristic appeal (and eventual decline) of reality television shows such as Big Brother and, in turn, the problematic issue of defining what ‘reality’ actually means. As a cathartic exercise, however, the film is oddly unilluminating, Lindeen’s interviews with the seven surviving members of the expedition failing to probe much into what they have learned from their experience. There’s even an attempt to gather the group on a life-size replica of the raft, in the vein of a therapy-style roundtable, yet – much like Genovés’s experiment – this engenders many more questions than it answers. Sadly, the longer the documentary goes on, the more The Raft feels like an underwhelming attempt to serve an audacious, once-forgotten saga, diverting in its account of an autocratic captain and the near-mutiny he elicits — but mostly content to make ripples rather than waves.
Published as part of June 2019’s Before We Vanish.