Rock the Boat

On the good sloop Survivor, the mostly amateur crew -- all nine men HIV-positive and some with full-blown AIDS -have definite goals. First, to stay alive while covering 2,250 miles of ocean, from Los Angeles to Hawaii, during the 1997 Transpacific Yacht Race. Second, according to producer Robert Hudson (head of the Get Challenged program for long-term AIDS survivors), to stem the erosion of confidence and self-esteem in those battling the disease by providing role models.

Mission accomplished. HIV-negative director Bobby Houston, pulling his weight as a crewman as well as handling the camera, lights and sound, has rough ocean weather, crammed space and crude lighting equipment working against him, but visual miracles abound nonetheless. Just catch the exhilaration of prop master turned helmsman Mike Burelle and bartender turned bowman Dennis Boecker as they fight the odds and sail into the open sea.

Below decks, food and hilarious dish are served by ship's cook Ted Taylor, who was a fundamentalist missionary before he came out. Tensions develop -- unavoidable on a stressful ten-day race. Skipper John Plander, an M.D., isn't always pleased to have a camera in his face. Others worry about their T-cell count and ebbing stamina. Rock the Boat, contentious and courageous, doesn't paint a pretty Hollywood picture. But the film's spirit is as strong as the memories of the AIDS dead whose names are painted on the ship's hull. Winning is not a question of whether or not this spellbinder snags an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. The Survivor crew gives us something of value to root for.

From The Archives Issue 806: February 18, 1999