'Red Dot on the Ocean': Film Review

Matt Rutherford
This less than compelling ocean-set documentary hits some troubled waters

Amy Flannery's documentary chronicles sailor Matt Rutherford's solo circumnavigation of the Americas

In 2011-2012 a young man named Mike Rutherford spent 309 days becoming the first solo sailor to circumnavigate the Americas, landing in the Guinness Book of World Records in the process. He did it on a secondhand 27-foot sailboat, and before his journey was completed nearly all of his equipment had fallen into disrepair. He had to contend with icebergs, storms, massive waves, lousy provisions and a boat that, as he puts it, "leaks like a sieve," while attempting such feats as sailing around Cape Horn, described by one commentator as "the sailor's Mt. Everest."  

You would think that his story would make for compelling cinema, but Red Dot on the Ocean, the documentary chronicling his arduous and courageous journey predicted as a "suicide mission" by professional sailors is strangely lackluster. Currently receiving its world premiere theatrical engagement at NYC's Quad Cinema, it seems destined to find its most appreciative audiences via public television outlets.

Working with crude video and audio footage recorded by Rutherford during his solo stint, director Amy Flannery has produced a workmanlike account that's short on actual thrills despite the daunting conditions depicted. As if to make up for the lack of usable footage, she instead concentrates on Rutherford's personal story, in the style of modern-day television Olympics coverage that concentrates on human interest tales.

Read More 'All is Lost': Cannes Review

We thus learn of his troubled childhood, including several years spent in a Christian cult; his learning disabilities that included ADD; his involvement with drugs and petty crime; and stints in drug rehab and juvenile detention. He eventually managed to overcome his difficulties and, inspired by such explorers as Ernest Shackleton, taught himself to sail.

It's an inspiring tale, to be sure, made more so by his eventual triumph that resulted in, among other accolades, Senator Tom Harkin singing his praises before Congress. Even Rutherford's father, seen in interviews along with other family members and friends, marvels, "Never saw that coming."

Rutherford is an engagingly charismatic, charmingly self-deprecating figure, and his amusing running commentary throughout his voyage makes a nice contrast to Robert Redford's taciturn silence throughout the fictional, similarly-themed All is Lost. His bravery is matched by his generosity—his journey served to raise $120,000 for an organization devoted to teaching sailing to disabled people. His story certainly deserved to be told, but it's hard not to wish that it had been done more effectively.

Production: Flannery Films, TheSailingChannel
Director: Amy Flannery
Screenwriters: Amy Flannery, Tory Salvia
Producers: Tory Salvia, Amy Flannery, Stephanie Slewka
Directors of cinematography: Matt Rutherford, Amy Flannery, David Thoreson

No rating, 77 min.