AFF Review: Dave Not Coming Back

Diving documentary probes murky emotional depths

The genial crew of deep-water scuba divers in this documentary aren’t the stereotypical thrill seekers you’ve come to associate with high-risk recreational activities that flirt with danger.

They’re just regular Joes who share a passion for the mystical experience of exploring the uncharted depths of submerged caves like Boesmansgat, or “Bushman’s Hole”, the freshwater sinkhole in the Kalahari Desert of northern South Africa. There, in late 2004, David Shaw unexpectedly spotted the wetsuit-encased body of Deon Dreyer resting approximately 270 meters below the surface during a record-breaking dive. Dreyer had disappeared during an unsuccessful descent down Bushman’s Hole ten years before.

Dave Not Coming Back superbly recounts what happened next. With the assistance of Don Shirley (who accompanied Shaw on the 2004 dive) and several others, including a few of his former diving students, Shaw formulated a down-to-the-minute plan for synchronizing a multi-person hand-off for recovering the corpse in early 2005. To the uninformed layman, the body retrieval would seem a simple task, except when you consider decompression sickness, or “the bends”, during ascent. For Shaw, it would take 17 minutes to reach Deon’s body; to avoid physical injury or death, it would take approximately 12 hours for him to surface.

The title says it all, but it’s not until a half-hour or so that the gut-punch comes, and the reality of the rescue effort’s outcome hits you. The extensive recorded footage of Shaw gives the bittersweet impression he’s a corporeal presence. Purists may bristle a little at the tail-end revelation that Shirley (the guiding voice here) re-enacted certain aspects of the 2005 dive (shot many years later) to complete the flashback narrative, but the film’s core elements are firmly entrenched in the documentary genre. Regardless, few can deny the mourning and mortality on display here aren’t the real thing.

Dave Not Coming Back

Marquee Features, U.S. Premiere

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Austin Film Festival, Austin Film Festival 2020, AFF 2020, Dave Not Coming Back, : Jonah Malak, Boesmansgat, Deon Dryer

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