In 1972 a charter plane carrying a Chilean college rugby team crashed into the Andes when the pilot made a navigational error amidst a heavy snowstorm. These were rich medical students who lived by the sea and had, many of them, never seen snow before. The atmosphere on board before the crash was one of high jinks and festive jubilation. This ended abruptly with the crash. The pilots soon died, the back of the plane had been sheered off, there was very little food, and the radio told them the rescue had been called off. Faced with certain death, this group of Catholic college boys were rallied by two things - the leadership of their team captain who rationed their food with discipline and fairness. And then the profound decision to cross the taboo of cannibalism in order to survive. For some, this was a challenging but rational decision - these were men of medical science after all. But for others, with a deep Catholic faith, it was a sin that could damn them, and it needed to be justified in terms of an act of consuming the Eucharist.
Gonzalo Arijon's documentary, made 35 years after the accident, is a triumph of film-making. He has access to many of the survivors and their family members and reconstructs the events through their testimony and some recreations. They are candid about their emotions at the time and in retrospect. We hear grown men describe almost dying - slowly through starvation - and suddenly when an avalanche buries them alive. We see the pain on their faces and in their voices when they discuss the need to eat their friends. We see the deep care taken to respect the dead, and to be honest with the rescuers for the sake of the families.
The result is a film that is by turns moving and dramatic. Despite knowing the outline of the story I was again and again taken aback by the men's candid insights and resilience. Truly this is a story of the importance of friendship, camaraderie and the willingness to survive. I was left with nothing but admiration for the men.
STRANDED has a running time of 130 minutes. It played Sundance 2008 and can be viewed in full on YouTube.