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Underwater Dreams (2014)

Unrated | | Documentary, History, News | 11 July 2014 (USA)
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Underwater Dreams, narrated by Michael Peña, chronicles the story of how the sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants learned how to build underwater robots. And go up against MIT in the process.




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Underwater Dreams, written and directed by Mary Mazzio, and narrated by Michael Peña, is an epic story of how the sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants learned how to build an underwater robot from cheap PVC parts. And defeat engineering powerhouse MIT in the process. Hailed by Jonathan Alter as "the most politically significant documentary film since Waiting for Superman (The Daily Beast); featured on the Colbert Report; called "astonishing... already a contender for the best documentary of 2014" (David Noh, Film Journal); "moving and insightful" (Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times) with similar reviews from the New York Times and others, Underwater Dreams was released theatrically on July 11 in Los Angeles, New York, and Phoenix with AMC Theatres. The project was announced by the White House; opened ClintonGlobal (with Chelsea Clinton moderating); and screened at the Aspen Ideas Festival (with Jonathan Alter moderating). The film, which is the centerpiece of NBCUniversal's new ... Written by Anonymous

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The robot was just the beginning.




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11 July 2014 (USA)  »

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16:9 HD
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Think Again
18 July 2014 | by See all my reviews

Greetings again from the darkness. Documentarian Mary Mazzio presents an inspirational and terrific human interest story ... in the first half of the film. The second half veers off into a one-sided socio-political editorial that, as frustrating as it is, doesn't dim the light from the magical first half.

Narrated by Michael Pena, we learn the story of 2 teachers and 4 students from Carl Hayden Community High School located just outside of Phoenix. The students are sons of undocumented immigrants (illegal aliens) attending a school with 92% of families living below the poverty line (90% Hispanic). The area is riddled with gangs, drugs and depression, making the journey and accomplishments of these four all the more impressive.

The group enters a high level Underwater Robotics competition sponsored by NASA and Naval Research ... in the collegiate division. If this were a Hollywood script, it would be outlandish and unbelievable. Instead, it's true and fascinating. Two amazing teachers (Fredi and Allan) lead the four: Lorenzo (the funny one, driven by a Hooters dream), Oscar (a natural leader in any group), Luis (the quiet dependable one, the muscle of the group), and Cristian (the brainiac computer geek who is a loner). With a total budget of $800, the group proceeds to work together to design, build and test their entry, affectionately known as "Stinky".

When they arrive in California, they realize they are competing against colleges ... in particular, the team from MIT (with Exxon sponsorship). Simply competing should have been victory enough, but we see actual footage of the awards ceremony with the announcement that the group comes away with much more than a participation ribbon. Their spirit and drive was no longer just inspirational, but now they had results to go with it.

The talking head approach works here because we get to know the four boys and the teachers. We also get plenty of face time with the MIT team and some judges. The insight from all of these people helps put this in perspective. Quite enlightening is the 10 year reunion between the MIT team and the boys who beat them a decade before. The life paths of these 8 display a clear distinction between the economic haves and have-nots. This is where the film's focus should have remained post-competition.

Unfortunately, we are taken on a trip of activism and the movement for undocumented students known as the Dream Act. Too much time is spent on the politics and protests, and not enough on the positive aspects of the legacy these boys and the teachers left for the high school, and a generation of students that followed. We are told that of the 2 million undocumented students in the U.S., 49% will drop out of high school. This leaves the impression that all 2 million are similar to these four, never once providing any insight into those who choose gangs or drugs. Focusing on one segment, is an injustice to the issue as a whole.

The best message is that determination and drive and teamwork can accomplish a great deal, and that it would be wonderful if every student could explore their own talents and interests. It does make one wonder if this economically disadvantaged group can accomplish this, what limitations is the impact of the rigid structure within public education imposing on other students. If a group of ESL students in the middle of the desert can compete against the brightest engineering students at MIT ... all students should know the possibilities are endless.

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