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The experiment that revealed the inherent goodness of man

The Raft
Regissør: Marcus Lindeen
(Sverige, Danmark, USA, Tyskland)

The Raft tells the story of the Acali experiment in 1973, which aimed to find the origins of human aggression. The results of the experiment surprised.

(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)

The Raft was shown at Nordic Panorama in the autumn, after the premiere at CPH: DOX in Copenhagen, where it won the main prize for best documentary. The film follows the diary of Mexican anthropologist Santiago Genovés, who studied violent behavior between people in what he called the "Acali Experiment." Clearly inspired by Thor Heyerdahl's Ra expedition, in which he himself participated, Genovés decides to isolate a group of people on a small fleet named Acali and let them drift across the Atlantic in 101 days – hoping to find the origins of human aggression.

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From the hundreds of applicants who responded to the Genovés advertisement, he selected only young and sexually attractive people, who otherwise had very different backgrounds, nationality, religion and social status. To provoke male aggression, he chose only women for crucial roles – such as being a captain, doctor and professional diver. The men were referred to trivial tasks such as washing and kitchen service for the others. Would men slowly try to overpower the "weaker" gender? Would the participants indulge in wild sex orgies through the three months of isolation? And who would initiate the first signs of frustration and aggression?

The art of conversation

Filmmaker Marcus Lindeen has created an exciting story based on Genové's private diary, which accompanies us throughout history: “I don't think they realize this trip will be very risky, but as a social anthropologist, I have to study them in dangerous situations where . Maria (the captain) is the only professional sailor on board and she knows very well that the sea is not a playground. ”The diary, combined with the original 16mm footage from the voyage, gives us authentic glimpses from the 1973 experiments, but what makes the film really unique is Linde's reconstruction of the fleet in a movie studio. By inviting the experimental participants back to participate again, he adds an interesting, theatrical aspect to the story.

Man carries with it a natural goodness when we are equal and isolated.

You can't see The Raft without becoming curious about Lindeen's earlier works. Lindeen started his career as a radio journalist, but eventually took directing training at the Dramatic Institute in Stockholm. Lindeen's work carries this double background, and it is an impressive combination. With a profound sensitivity to the spoken word, combined with a masterful dramaturgical ability, the art of conversation emerges as Lindeen's specialty. This becomes clear in the debut ångrararna – a film that mainly consists of a dialogue between two men who regret their gender changes. What appears to be an authentic and incredible conversation between two strangers is actually clipped together by painstakingly edited conversations, filmed over 15 days.

Lindeen once stated that he strives to make "the perfect interview". The dialogue i Ångrarna combines recordings where the main characters have real conversations with sequences where Lindeen made them perfect their lines through several recordings. The dialogue was edited with perfect precision, capturing every gesture, facial expression, pauses and word choice. The result is a small masterpiece that gave him the prestigious Prix Europa for best European documentary in Berlin in 2010 and the Swedish Academy's Guldbagge for best Swedish documentary in 2011. A play has also been made based on the script.

Good or evil

The Raft is the second film in what Lindeen himself refers to as his «trilogy of studio documentaries». He uses the same technique as in The regrets, and combines beautiful archive material with "conversations in the studio" in the present, where the six survivors uncover deeper layers in the experiences during the experiment. By establishing these two threads in history – the present and the past – it becomes possible for Lindeen to cross – cut between these two time periods in a way that provides a better understanding of the experience as a whole. Unfortunately, none of the people who are "interviewed" have the same immersive charm as the people in Regretsbut The Raft is nonetheless a genuinely fascinating tale.

We see cheerful, tanned people in small bathing suits without life jackets. They look damned good, but there seems to be no sexual rivalry or orgies, despite Santiago's constant provocations and growing frustration. Two-thirds of the way through the journey – and the perfectly directed story – there is only one person who seems to pose a real threat to society as a whole: as a revelation, to his great surprise, Genovés realizes that the only aggressive person is himself. Eventually he succumbs and disappears into a psychosomatic disorder, presumably due to the negative vibrations of the others, who fantasize about drowning accidentally or just disappearing from the raft for good.

Despite having studied social anthropology myself, I can not remember hearing about Acalithe experiment before. In other words, it did not end up in the textbooks as an important scientific event. The film is far more valuable than the experiment itself: by combining Santiago's "scientific" diary with new testimonies from the surviving participants, it gives us a unique understanding of women's subtle exercise of power – and it even acknowledges the existence of spirits. But more than anything else, it shows us that man carries a natural goodness when we are equal and isolated.

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Margareta Hruza
Hruza is a Czech / Norwegian filmmaker and regular critic of Ny Tid.

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