Filmmaker Gonzalo Arijón had heard the story time and time again, but never like this. When he turned on his camera to make the documentary “Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains,” an intimate story emerged that had never been told before.
Considered one of the most inspiring tales of survival, “Stranded” is the true story of a 1972 plane crash that left 16 Uruguayan rugby team members and their friends lost on a remote Andean glacier only to be discovered alive more than two months later.
Although author Piers Paul Read’s bestselling 1973 book on the event had been previously adapted into the 1993 film “Alive,” Arijón, who has been friends with some of the survivors since they were teenagers, felt there was more to say about the harrowing experience.
Thirty-five years later, the documentary filmmaker sat down with the men to relive the darkest days of their lives. He spoke to me about what it was like to hear the story once more.
This story had already been adapted into a feature film in 1993’s “Alive.” Why did you decide it needed to be told in a documentary?
I had been thinking about this film for many years. I had spent a lot of time with the survivors. I knew a lot of them even before the crash. After the crash, I talked with them a lot about what happened and I realized they were trying to understand the real meaning of the experience and why history put them in this situation. I was so moved hearing them on a lot of different levels and in philosophical terms.
What did you think about the 1993 version? I read some of the players didn’t like how the story was portrayed.
I had a lot of hope for it, but for me, it wasn’t a good film. I was disappointed because I didn’t feel it was the players’ story. It was okay as a big adventure, but it wasn’t their story. It doesn’t really capture the feelings of everyone and their way of thinking. It’s from a very external point of view. It doesn’t transmit something deep. That’s one of the reason I decided to do [“Stranded”]. If someone before me had made a strong interpretation of the story, I would have said it was not necessary to do it. But “Alive” doesn’t resolve anything.
Since you had heard this story so many times and are close to some of the men, did you ever put yourself on those mountains with them as they told you about their experiences?
Yes. They like to make this joke that I am survivor No. 17 because I know everything about what happened up there. I agree and accept this. I am trying to have a little place on this plane. I feel [I’m] there with them. They were not the same after this experience and I am not the same after making this film.
It’s been 30 years since this plane crash and I’m sure the men have told their story a number of times. Do you feel like you got them to open up in a way they hadn’t before?
Yes. But for me, the point is not about finding out about the things I didn’t already know about. The point is that they talked to me in a very different way about those feelings. They talked to me like they had never done before. The result of all this is a very intimate story. It’s a story not only about survival, but also about love and friendship.