Miami Film Festival 2019 – Some of the most intense and emotional documentaries of the last decade have focused on sports. In the wake of “Free Solo” winning Best Documentary at the Oscars audiences may begin to seek the sub-genre out. The physical toll these sports take on their protagonists can be grueling. Pushing your body to the extreme can affects the subject’s physical and emotional state. For Erik Weihenmayer, sports give him an incredible hobby to pursue. After he lost his sight early in life, he has chosen to pursue some of the greatest athletic feats possible. Now he attempts to complete Lava Falls, one of the toughest rapids in the world.
“The Weight of Water” follows Weihenmayer, a blind man looking to kayak down the entirety of the Grand Canyon. The twenty-one-day journey features dangerous rapids, scorpions, and outdoor camping. It is one of the most grueling stretches of water in the world. This journey is so tough, Weihenmayer scaled Mount Everest first. Director Michael Brown primarily focuses on Erik’s journey but mixes in a home video of his life. He crafts a portrait of someone who pushes for greatness at everything despite the very real obstacles in his path.
Brown and director of photography Andy Masser capture the Canyon’s natural beauty, taking the journey with Erik. They’ve attached cameras to the front of each kayak, so when they flip, you go underwater with them. The dirt and clay of the water are so thick, you lose the visual of the person only two feet away from the camera. With the source sound, you can hear the terror of going underwater and feel the intensity of the ride. Some moments are downright scary to watch. There are scenes of slow-motion footage of a Kayak stuck in the drain of a rapid. The struggle to stay above the water can be harrowing. Brown and Masser capture the beauty of the journey and emotional stakes of Erik’s journey.
The pacing of the documentary also helps, interspersing the background and family moments in between the various rapids they face. As they travel down the canyon, not only do the rapids get more intense, but the testimonials become more emotional. The score, from Emmy-nominated composer Chris Bacon and composer Gad Emile Zeitune, delivers the intensity of the events. It’s a nice, calming score that doesn’t take too much away from the footage. It complements the documentary nicely.
“The Weight of Water” features a great protagonist and standout moments from start to finish. Weihenmayer makes for an incredibly interesting subject, and the direction keeps our focus on him. Brown sets out to capture an incredible accomplishment, and it delivers just that. Unfortunately, we do not get the perspective of Weihenmayer’s journey from his family. That could have helped the film jump to the next level. Despite this, “The Weight of Water” has a lot to love. This story makes for a very intense and emotional journey.