Morning Light

Morning Light


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Morning Light is a documentary in the same way that Big Brother is reality: A selection of people are put in a situation and the results filmed.

In this case, the people are a virtually indistinguishable set of young sailors. Despite spending more than an hour with them, with a variety of quasi-interview inserts, voiceover stints, and even their names printed on the back of their shirts, they blend into a generic sea of muscled mariners. It's not their fault that over months of filming they are as differentiated as the two girls, the one who's probably Australian, the one with the beard, and the one member of an ethnic minority. Steve Manson's is probably the most interesting story here, but the potentially fascinating story of how a black kid from Baltimore ends up in a yacht race is drowned in the overwhelming tide of mediocrity.

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The situation is the 2007 Transpac yacht race, which starts in California and ends in Hawaii. The youngsters are given a boat, provided by producer Roy Disney, and training from a variety of coaches among the islands - then they themselves select a crew for the race.

The story this documentary is trying to tell is a pretty standard one - young people attain maturity working together against adversity, your standard heroic journey of achievement. There's little drama, though, even without the presence of the support vessel Cheyenne being announced. The kids are nice enough, but they're all mostly sailors already, and while they're not hugely experienced they've all got a sense of the difference between a spinnaker and a splice.

That's probably the film's biggest weakness, greater even than its somewhat leaden pacing and tendency to repeat itself; it's a sailing movie, made by sailors (Roy Disney is an accomplished yachtsman), and it leaves audiences not acquainted with the field in its wake. There are CGI inserts showing the path of the vessel, a single explanation of the difference between jibing and tacking, and otherwise we're watching people running from one side of a boat to another, winching and wincing as the sea chops them about, with no real idea why.

The pace of the boat is as varied as the pace of the film, but while a boat becalmed is an opportunity for drama, a film that's lost its way is just tedious. Changing course from the process of training and selection to the race itself, it struggles to find its way. There's an antagonist of sorts in the challenge of equivalent yacht Samba Pa Ti, but it's not that even. As they point out in the film, the navigation software that they use was written by one of Samba's sailors.

This has no real sense of direction, a muddied mix of footage shot by the youths themselves, the documentary crew, the chase catamaran that's never mentioned by name, the uncertainty in some of the night shots of the yacht as to whether we're seeing special effects or just artifacts of the camera, and a soundtrack that's mostly earnest teen poprock, with the addition of a song by some of the crew over the credits. The last is a feature it shares with Robert Rodriguez's Shorts, but while Shorts has six or more stories seen or implied, Morning Light is aimless.

The unfocused nature of Morning Light is a shame. It's clearly a labour of love for those behind the scenes, and that's most obvious in the fact that the film could have done with a sterner hand at the tiller when it came to editing. There's certainly the potential for interesting stories, mostly unrealised. The film mostly resembles one of those post-MTV reality shows like The Hills, in that there's just stuff happening on screen and somebody is attempting to create the sense of narrative with music cues or clumsy voiceover. There's a similar disconnect with those depicted; even at the end, with one of those Eighties-style "what they did next" montages, there's no real sense of who these kids are. The talking heads explaining what happened in the training have the same mixture of enthusiasm and platitude that grace the worst of the output of The Discovery Channel.

Ultimately this doesn't feel like it deserved a cinematic release. Private screenings for those involved, perhaps, even an appearance in a documentary strand on sailing, but there's nothing to grab an outsider here. It's not awful, just not very good; the end result is not a thought that one's own time has been wasted, just that the potential for a truly interesting documentary (or slice of "reality") has been missed.

Reviewed on: 10 Sep 2009
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A documentary about fifteen young sailors competing to enter a top boat race challenge.
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Director: Mark Monroe

Starring: Chris Branning, Graham Brant-Zawadzki, Chris Clark, Charlie Enright, Jesse Fielding, Robbie Kane

Year: 2008

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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