I’ve always been obsessed by being able to exist underwater on a single breath and films like The Big Blue have fascinated me since I was a kid – so when I watched the Netflix documentary The Deepest Breath I was hooked!
Laura McGann’s documentary opens with what feels like the ending: a competition freediver passing out and in possible trouble. It’s a great hook to get under your skin and keep you watching, for you can tell that this is a story without a happy ending. I mean, Freediving is an inherently dangerous sport with around 60 deaths per year, so you know that a documentary about it is not going to be plain sailing – but what we don’t know at the start (unless you know the story) is actually what the ending is going to be.
Netflix’s underwater documentary The Deepest Breath is billed as the true story of a champion freediver Alessia Zecchini and expert safety diver Stephen Keenan, who find a friendship in this tight-knit underwater community and together push the bounds of what can be achieved on one breath – which in this case is trying to beat a world record for the deepest dive.
It’s quite clear from the get go that Alessia is the one in danger, who we focus on. Getting to know her via archival footage of her freediving competitions and interviews with her family and colleagues we start to form an impression of a woman obsessed with being the best. From a young age she’s beating older kids breath-hold records in her native Italy, and its obvious that she’s bound for great things; but it’s not until she’s competing at an international level that she starts to hit the limit of her ability and so she pushes herself harder – ultimately almost dying in one of the Bahama’s competitions. It’s during this fateful period that she meets safety diver Stephen Keenan.
Keenan, an Irishman who also nearly died whilst freediving, has dedicated his life to training and supporting the safety divers who patrol these freedive competitions – becoming very well known in the community as a no risks kind of guy. The guy you want with you if you’re pushing boundaries.
Alessia and Stephen begin working together, with Stephen coaching and guiding her to deeper and deeper record dives – and they become inseparable.
The documentary follows their story, interspersed with very moving and raw interviews from their fathers – a discourse of pride and sorrow, further reinforcing the tragedy we are skillfully being ushered towards.
To say more about their story would undermine the power of Director Laura McGann’s storytelling, which uses the interwoven archival footage, underwater recreations, and interviews to give us a strong connection to both these starring divers. We get to know them, care for them, and share in their successes – which makes their ultimate failures so much more painful.
THE DEEPEST BREATH
An A24, Motive Films and Ventureland Production
Release Date: July 19, 2023
This thrilling documentary tells the story of champion freediver Alessia Zecchini and expert safety diver Stephen Keenan, who seemed fated to meet at the height of their careers. Raw underwater dive footage and extensive interviews bring viewers along for their emotional journey into the stunning, silent depths of the ocean, a breathtaking place unseen by all but the fortunate few — where exhilarating accomplishments and unavoidable risks await. From director Laura McGann, The Deepest Breath captures the gripping mix of destiny and danger at the heart of two athletes’ undeniable bond, and offers a never-before-seen glimpse into one of the most dangerous sports in the world.
Director: Laura McGann
Producers: John Battsek, Sarah Thomson, Jamie D’Alton, Anne McLoughlin
Executive Producers: Bart Layton, Ben Cotner, Emily Osborne, Adriana Banta
Co-Producer: Robert Ford
Run Time: 108 Min