There’s an inspiring short-feature doc buried in the sprawling 90 minutes of Underwater Dreams.
Perhaps the bright and creative high school engineers whose story Mazzio’s film tells could give it a once-over and a working structure. In 2004 the robotics team from Phoenix’s Carl Hayden Community High School (known as “the gang school”) field-tripped to Santa Barbara to compete against the best colleges in an underwater robotics competition.
With an $800 robot rigged up from PVC pipes and tampons, the Hayden squad — all Hispanic, all the children of undocumented workers — pulled off an upset, besting even those ringers from MIT. That story, told in interviews and restaged footage, takes up about half of Mazzio’s sunny doc. The rest follows up a couple years later, showing what became of the team members, what later Hayden squads have accomplished, and reuniting the ’04 winners with the MIT kids they faced off with.
Over cheery, generic music smart folks make a passionate defense of a more welcoming U.S. immigration policy — these young dynamos have to deport themselves and then wait 10 years for a crack at citizenship. But the film is dismayingly formless, every point is made too many times, and there’s too little drama or revelation here.