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Oct 23, 2008

Thirty-six year after the famous events surrounding their plane crash in the Andes, the survivors finally tell their own story in this new documentary.

By Amy Van Vechten

Stranded is the chilling, true story of the young men who survived avalanches, freezing temperatures and starvation for an agonizing 72 days after their plane crashed in the Andes Mountains.
It has already been the subject of a best-selling book, Alive, and a 1993 Hollywood film of the same title. However, the 16 survivors were not satisfied with the way their story had been told.
With their permission, the childhood friend of many who were on that doomed flight, director Gonzalo Arijón, took it upon himself to treat their story in a new way.
“This story has never been told from the inside,” Arijón says. “What they have to say has never really been heard.” In his documentary, Stranded: I Come from a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains, the survivors narrate their own story.
When the 40 passengers—members of Stella Maris College’s “Old Christians” rugby union team from Montevideo, Uruguay and a few of their loved ones—and five crew members set out for a match in Chile on October 13, 1972, they were in high spirits.
And then it happened: the plane they were traveling in flew into cloud cover and crashed into a mountainside. Twelve died upon impact, and five more succumbed to their injuries the next morning.
The story of the 72 days that followed is an epic of hunger, fear, death, and incredible willpower.
The men had not only survived three winter months in the Andes, but also an avalanche that claimed eight more lives and trapped the others in the fuselage for three days. The 16 survivors explain the struggle to forge a collectivity on the frozen mountainside that would help all them to survive.
Their fluctuations between joy and despair, life and death are nearly tangible. They survived on a diet of one square of chocolate and one capful of wine a day—until those meager rations ran out.
Hunger and desperation forced them to an unimaginable solution for their own survival: eating the flesh of their deceased friends.
As the survivors journey back to the site over 30 years later, they weave a story that both mourns and reminisces. Carefully composed and terrifyingly reenacted, the film is an emotionally exhausting experience that ultimately reaffirms the power of the human spirit.
Stranded has been awarded a number of prizes, including the Grand Prize at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam.
The film opened on October 22 in New York and will premiere on November 7 in Los Angeles. It will be release nationwide shortly thereafter.

Survivor Adolfo Strauch recalls memories of the crash and explains the cathartic experience of making the film. Watch FLYP’s interview with him, and explore our slide show of images taken when rescuers first arrived on scene.

Director Gonzalo Arijón describes his experience of working intimately with the survivors during the making of Stranded. Watch FLYP’s interview with him here.

FLYP: What inspired you to make this film, 35 years after the event?
Arijón: No one had really told the story the way they had experienced it. It took them many years to understand why this had happened to them and what message they had to share. It is a powerful, philosophical story with profound themes such as life, death, loneliness and friendship. It was all of these levels that excited me. And then they made the decision to share it and told me I could make the film.
FLYP: How did you decide on a method for retelling their story?
Arijón: For me transmission was an important part of the telling of the story. They first told their children, then their friends and family and, in some way, also society. Doing justice to that for me was fundamental.
I asked each of them for 24 hours of their time in a very quiet place in Uruguay, and I always imagined these moments—they weren’t really interviews—to be very deep moments of their words with only skies behind them. The light of the day or night on their faces would influence the themes that we were addressing and in some way the emotion. Filming fragments of their memories in a very free and artistic way was a great experience.
FLYP: What about making this film remains the most vivid?
Arijón: Many of the things they told me truly surprised me. But it is not a film of confessions as much as a new way of telling things. Perhaps the most emotional scene, for them and for me, was the end of the film where they are all standing in front of the collective grave onsite.
It was a very intimate experience. I felt accepted, which is not easy. They accepted me at a time that was extremely personal and intimate. What happened there was something very magical, something that I will never forget.

Watch five clips—including the pivotal scenes of the plane crash and the rescue—from the documentary.

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