With the debate over America's unresolved immigration policies at fever pitch these days, the inspiring documentary "Underwater Dreams" makes for quite the timely entry.
Writer-producer-director Mary Mazzio neatly recounts how a group of Mexican-born students from a beleaguered Arizona high school trumped opponents from the esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a 2004 underwater robotics contest sponsored by NASA and others. The filmmaker also presents a cogent case why, for the good of the United States and its future, Congress should pass the Dream Act and other pending immigration reforms.
But it's the robotics competition and its life-changing aftermath that informs most of the narrative. Recent interviews with the original challengers — the resourceful underdogs from Phoenix's Carl Hayden Community High School and the more seemingly privileged contestants from MIT — are effectively mixed with actual footage from the 2004 contest. The film also incorporates modest reenactments of the Arizona kids' preparation for the event.
The two teams reunite toward the end of the movie in a spirited gathering held earlier this year at MIT at which the onetime competitors again build and race underwater robots. The differing paths taken over the past decade by the Carl T. Hayden Community High School grads and the MIT alumni prove a telling snapshot of our nation's class and cultural divide.
Comments by student advisors, parents of the main Carl Hayden alumni, the high school's more recent robotics students and immigration activists, along with narration by actor Michael Peña ("Cesar Chavez") rounds out this moving and insightful piece.
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.
At AMC's Burbank Town Center 6.