The Raft

Mexican anthropologist Santiago Genoves had the idiotic idea of putting people together on a raft to see how power struggles and violence would play out. He was studying aggression and figured he could get some volunteers to spend months at sea and he could document it all. The first problem with his experiment, as my wife pointed out, was that he didn’t get a random sampling of the population. He picked people that were different races, religions, and mostly attractive. My wife said, “You take people with different races and religions, they might be at each others’ throats in just a two hour dinner. They don’t need to go from the Canary Islands to Mexico for that.”

And what happened on this three hour tour? This three hour tour? Well, a three month transatlantic trip.

Swedish filmmaker (and artist) Marcus Lindeen created a replica of the boat and brought the seven remaining members of the original 12-member crew onto it to talk about what they experienced. Those interviews go nicely with the 16mm footage from the actual experiment, which at the time, was dubbed the “Peace Project” by Genoves, and the “Sex Raft” by the press.

I’ve said before that one of the enjoyable things about watching a documentary on a subject you know nothing about is the fact that you learn something new (and usually interesting). Well, when the documentary takes a turn and goes in a direction you didn’t see coming…that can be a blast, too. A few that come to mind are Crazy Love and last year’s Three Identical Strangers.

And while this documentary starts off about how total strangers will deal with each other (it’s 1973, and decades before any reality show garbage like Big Brother)…it turns out to be more about the insanely controlling psychiatrist behind it all. It’s baffling that, with only the one psychology class I had at SDSU, I knew more about how to do a proper experiment of this kind than Genoves did.

I know this because, he left behind his writing (which is done in voiceover by Daniel Gimenez Cacho of Zama).

His idea for the experiment was born when studying human nature in warlike situations and other violence in society. HIs experience as one of many hostages on a plane that was hijacked, put this project to the forefront of his mind.

We get to hear from Eisuke, a Japanese photographer who shyly admits to having had a crush on one of the women.

There’s an Israeli doctor, an Angolan Catholic priest, a French scuba diver, a Swedish sea captain, and an African-American engineer, who talks about how out of place she felt at the time.

Since everyone got along swimmingly, Genoves tried doing a lot of things to stir the pot. He tried to get the sexes to fight, first by putting a few women in charge of things. He tried getting couples to hook up. He tried getting people to fight. And when they wouldn’t take the bait, he’d just get more personal with his questions, until finally telling everyone the answers to various people’s questions (for example, “Who is the person you dislike the most on the raft?” or “Who are you most attracted to?”)

It’s great to know that when the media started dubbing this the “sex raft” it drove him crazy. I think Love Boat works better (although this was four years before that show).

Since the passengers got along, it made Genoves more of a nutjob megalomaniac. You were kind of rooting for the crew to have a mutiny and throw his ass overboard.

A few of the sub-titles were hard to read, as they were in white with a white background, but only a portion of the movie has captions.

Maybe there won’t be enough drama for some here. They never go all ‘Lord of the Flies’ or start eating each other; but I found it oddly engrossing. My wife…just found it gross (I think that had to do with a section of the raft I called the “poop deck”).

This is certainly more interesting than the documentary we got on the all female yacht crew from Maiden last month.

It’s playing at the Digital Gym starting Friday.

3 ½ stars out of 5.

 

 

 

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