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BMZ Review: Ocean Men: Extreme Dive
By Elizabeth Kaye McCall


Dive on in with 'Ocean Men'
Written by: Elizabeth Kaye McCall
Source: Freelance
Date: August 2001


Category: Reviews

Take a deep breath and hold it—then grapple with the prospect of reaching a depth equivalent to a 40-story building under water before coming to the surface again.  Welcome to world of Ocean Men, and two top champion freedivers who challenge the boundaries of physical limits in a quest to conquer ever-greater aquatic depths on a single breath of air. 

Linked by a passionate addiction to the sea, one-time friends Cuban-born Pipin Ferreras and Italian-born Umberto Pelizzari locked horns in a rivalry for the world’s depth record a decade ago which has become so intense, neither would consent to coming into contact with the other while filming.  Not that this deterred German production company H5B5 Media AG from diving into its first large format film.

Writer-producer Almut Saygin sold HB5B on the concept before the storyline was even finalized, she was so inspired by the world freediving championships in Sardinia, Italy.  She and director-cinematographer Bob Talbot ("Dolphins," "Flipper," "Free Willy") had to look no further than the sport’s top record holders for all the drama a filmmaker could want.  Freediving’s two original champions’ tumultuous rivalry inspired Luc Besson’s feature film The Big Blue.  In this film, the contrasting personalities and philosophies of Pipin and Umberto make for riveting footage of an unrelentingly, disciplined extreme sport rooted in pearl diving and spear fishing traditions.   

Filmed on location in the Bahamas, Honduras, and Sardinia, the mind-boggling reality of human beings who defy the need to breathe immediately hits home as Pipin leisurely glides underwater through a sunken ship on a single breath—for over three minutes!   After watching him freedive with reef sharks, you readily agree with his comment, "For me they’re not monsters, but companions. In my mind I become one of them."

For anyone with claustrophobia, expect some white-knuckle moments when Umberto swims through an underwater cave on one breath.  According to him, if you dive with a breathing apparatus, you watch the outside world.  With apnea diving (another term for freediving), you look into yourself.

While it’s one thing to experience the body’s harmony with the underwater world, absolute concentration and physical control is required.  Extraordinary training with a special breathing and meditation technique enables divers to accumulate oxygen in the body tissue to accomplish inhuman feats.  Just contrast the average person’s 6 liter lung capacity to Pipin’s 8.2 liter and Umberto’s 7.9-liter capabilities.  Or consider the fact that Pipin can reduce his heartbeats to 12 per minute, while Umberto (who practices Pranayama yoga) can reduce his to 10 heartbeats.  Freediving is said to be 80 or 95 percent mental.  Ocean Men’s use of animation and graphics to demonstrate the internal physical transformations the body endures at extreme depths make it hard to fathom any human choosing to do this, much less devote their lives toward. Yet neither of these quasi sea mammals would choose to exist any other way.  Both liken the sea to God.  In Pipin’s mind, "The deeper I am going, the nearer I am to my soul."  Umberto says, "It is the sea that allows me to win.  It is the sea that accepts me."

With a storyline that follows both divers from early childhood and markedly differerent beginnings (Umberto was afraid of water, while Pipin spear fished as a boy) to the passion and rivalry they now share, Ocean Men culminates in a dramatic dive sequence where both attempt to set new records.  Will it be Pipin, propelled by a "weight-sled" hundreds of feet to where the water becomes dark, or Umberto, self-propelled with oversized flippers and goggles who emerges ahead, this time?  Both divers believe the journey, not the accomplishment, is the reward.  See what you think after 40 minutes in their world, heightened by Enya-flavored enchantment in composer Cliff Eidelman’s ("Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country") film score.

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BMZ Guidelines:    A breathtaking plunge into the world of competitive freediving that will jolt your senses and challenge perceptions of mind over matter.  The larger-than-life personas of the sport’s top champions and a now legendary rivalry makes for a captivating storyline. Superb underwater photography and enticing film score are hypnotic—just remember, the real thing’s not for amateurs.

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