Movie Review: Black Coral

Black Coral has good intentions, but this nearly pointless documentary is a meandering tale about the dangers of deep sea diving with no relatable people to anchor its story.

Black Coral tells the harrowing, amazing and occasionally amusing stories of the Black Coral divers of Maui in their own words. It recreates the beauty, addiction and danger of harvesting the Hawaiian State gemstone. Right or wrong? Inspiring or insane? Destructive or sustainable? In the end, Black Coral does what few other documentaries dare to do – it gives you the unbiased facts and allows you to draw to your own conclusions.

I received an email from Brett Winn to review this documentary.  It took me a while to review this because July was stacked with a lot of highly anticipated movies followed by the Cinemalaya Film Festival in August. Nonetheless, I finally got around to writing my thoughts about this film.

Black Coral has some good underwater shots and it made an effort to reenact stories by divers. It’s told entirely from their point of view through informal interviews. These are genuine moments and you can tell these are men hardened and scarred by a specific way of living.

While Black Coral is an earnest film its also a tedious and meandering documentary.

Black Coral goes into different tangents separated into chapters. It’s clear that what’s most compelling about this documentary are the people who went through the peak of Black Coral mining, but the documentary’s insistence on exploring every facet of it weighs down the story.

The documentary interviewed a number of people, but the viewer is given no clue as to who they are and why you need to listen, especially for the fact that they said it isn’t about the money but the thrill of it. So this begs the question, why should you care about a whole bunch of divers who do a job knowing full well what the dangers are, just like any other people with dangerous jobs?

One interviewee said that diving for black coral put him through medical school, but this moment is a flicker of insight that’s ignored and gets lost in a sea of multiple voices.

All this, combined with a repetitive format, makes it hard for viewers to stay engaged.

If you aren’t a deep sea diver, you’ll slog your way through the whole thing. Even if you are, it’s difficult to sustain interest unless you’re a Black Coral diver yourself and know the people being interviewed.

Black Coral is an earnest documentary, but its good intentions are lost in a missing narrative and indistinguishable voices. It insists on not taking a side or making any statement, but as a result it becomes a dull overlong series of interviews. At best its a collection of cautionary tales for people who are engaged in deep sea diving for black coral.

My Rating: 5/10

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