A film by Mauro Herce
2015, 74 minutes
No. 047

An enormous shipping freighter drifts aimlessly across the desolate waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Beneath the grinding, brutal machinery and bruised ocean skies, the ship's anonymous crew toil tirelessly to keep the ship on course. They could be lost, men adrift, or perhaps the last vestiges of a doomed species.

Gorgeously photographed in rich, spectral hues, Dead Slow Ahead begins as a soothing and hypnotic nautical journey, leaving the soft Gulf port lights of New Orleans behind in the deep blackness of night. Filmmaker Mauro Herce (cinematographer on many acclaimed films like the Cannes winner Mimosas) embeds himself with the mostly Filipino crew of the freighter, named the Fair Lady, as it crosses the vast and empty ocean en route to various ports around the world.

Herce's camera is a quiet and non-judgmental observer, with a child-like sense of wonder at the ship’s maritime technology, and a poet’s eye for the mystical beauty of the sea. The trip unfolds as an ambient marine odyssey. Quiet, barely discernible music complements the meditative mechanical sounds of the freighter and the haunting noise of the sea and wind. Unexpected drama ensues when water rushes into one of the vast cargo holds, ruining the wheat shipment. A hallucinatory scene of the crew partying hard to karaoke also shatters the calm. But the massive ship heaves ever forward in its rhythm. At one point, we hear the sad and disjointed conversations of crew members, calling their far-off loved ones who are celebrating the holidays once more without them.

At times resembling a dystopian science-fiction film, multi-award-winning Dead Slow Ahead is an immersive one-of-a-kind documentary, a trenchant commentary on global trade, labor and capitalism.

* Winner, Special Jury Award, Locarno Film Festival
* Winner, Best First Film, DocLisboa
* Winner, Special Mention, Seville Film Festival
* Winner Best International Film, Ann Arbor Film Festival
* Winner, Best Documentary, Jihlava Documentary Film Festival
* Official Selection, South by Southwest Film Festival
* Official Selection, Art of the Real, Film Society of Lincoln Center

"A transcendent sci-fi documentary. Herce and his crew have accomplished is an invaluable feat of cinematic empathy and vision. And unlike even the most prophetic science fiction, you leave the theater knowing that the Fair Lady is still out in the ocean somewhere, hauling its grain or coal or iPhones to ports of call we'll never seen in our lifetimes." - The Verge

"The most beautiful film I saw.. Herce's riveting and eerie visual style in Dead Slow Ahead successfully captures the monumentality of the bulker—and man’s smallness within it—as well the diminutiveness of humankind’s pretension and enterprise within nature’s immense watery arena." - Cineaste

"Plays at once like a vocational ethnography and an experiential view of industrial advancement. Herce captures an astonishing array of natural wonders and crafts an extra-sensory tableaux of near-surrealist imagery with a steady hand and acute eye for the beauty of his surroundings." - Brooklyn Magazine

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