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Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: DAVE’S NOT COMING BACK [Austin Film Festival 2020 – Virtual]

The context of “Dave Not Coming Back” is almost mythic in its progress. A feature film in narrative style would have harmed its poignancy but the irony of a documentary film that was initially being made to document a rescue of sorts in a deep water cave located in the desert plains of South Africa is mind boggling in its own structure of Bushman’s Hole. This freshwater sinkhole descends to close to 1000 feet underwater. Many have dived it. one such diver, not a full professional, (the title character of Dave) set the world record by going to the bottom where he found the body of a former diver who was lost a decade earlier. The initial documentary footage done in 2005 was created to capture that effort and its success. What it turned into was something much darker and human. The only way to recover the body was to have a string of divers almost relay the body up since otherwise they couldn’t rise to the surface that quick or risk bad decompression sickness. From nearly 1000 feet it takes near 12 hours stopping at different depths to decompress. Without giving too much away, something went wrong but watching the layers being pulled away including footage actually taken by the man who went down to the very bottom is both harrowing and strangely prescient and moving but also disturbing. These kinds of stories are the ones that sometimes people who lived them don’t want to tell because of guilt but with others, it is about setting the record straight. Don, who was almost hand-in-hand with Dave (who didn’t come back – hence the title), recreates in a way but also shows his path without overwhelming the story (which on its own is harrowing as well — yet he survived). Balancing the new info, underwater recreations (to a point) [done by Don] and footage going down into a mine shaft plus some beautiful drone bridges of the actual sinkhole from above, it is a story that perhaps most of us in the US never heard about but it is universal. It also needed time to simmer and manifest if you will. This event was very unique, tragic but also deeply human and ambitious but also fraught wit themes of regret, ego and legacy. Ultimately it creates a texture vision into the mindset of explorers, the motivations that drive them and the ones that are left behind. Many of the worlds and footage are prescient yet paint a distinct picture of a moment in time, perhaps secular from the world but undeniably global in its universality.

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By Tim Wassberg

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