Often -- especially at Sundance -- a documentary works because it offers you a story you simply don't know; a political perspective, a personal struggle, a place in time. But occasionally, the most gripping documentaries are the ones where you knew the shape and sense of the tale beforehand, but lacked a finer understanding of its details and facts. Stranded: I've come from a plane that crashed on the mountains is one of those documentaries -- one where the boiled-down headlines and distant memories of a real event are not only expanded but explored, not merely presented as fact but shaped as art. In 1972, a Uruguayan rugby team took off on Flight 571 for a weekend in Chile, intending to mix a few games with a little sightseeing. They never made it; instead, the plane crashed in the Andes. 12 passengers and crew members among the 45 people on board died on impact or soon thereafter. Another 5 died before daybreak the second day. The remaining passengers -- young, scared, injured -- did what they could to survive. And then, after the tenth day, with the radio explaining that the air search for the plane was being called off, the remaining 25 did what they had to in order to survive.
Directed by Gonzalo Arijon, Stranded not only interviews the survivors of Flight 571 but also follows the survivors and their loved ones on a journey back to the crash site over 30 years later, and includes recreations of the flight and the struggles of the stranded youths. Stranded is neither sensational nor evasive about what the survivors did, and what they had to do as their meager food supplies ran out and they had to turn to the bodies of their fallen friends. In the current-day interviews, the survivors are careful and sensitive and judicious in discussing their experiences; at the same time, you can feel the sting of cold logic when one survivor explains how after word came that the air search was called off, "We, the Strauch cousins, prepared the meat ... "