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Underwater Dreams | Review

It is easy to dismiss Underwater Dreams as yet another David vs. Golliath tale as it chronicles the epic story of four teenage boys from the desert who built an underwater robot from Home Depot parts and went up against engineering powerhouse MIT in a NASA contest and won.

However, there is way more to this documentary written and directed by Mary Mazzio than first meets the eye and narrated expertly by Michael Pena. Hidden behind the robotics and competition is an incredible story of immigration, aspiration and what happens when smart people are given opportunities that others often take for granted. It’s true, nerds come in different shapes, sizes, cultural backgrounds and ethnicities.


We’ve all heard the phrase “behind every successful man is a woman”, well behind every successful student is a passionate teacher and in this documentary, the boys are lucky enough to have two; Fredi Lajvardi and Allan Cameron, two energetic high school science teachers, who on a whim, enter their high school, a Title I school where most of the students live in poverty, into a sophisticated underwater robotics competition sponsored by NASA and the Office of Naval Research, among others.

Winning the competition was never a consideration and what comes across in this heart-warming tale is the enthusiasm and verve each of the four boys (Lorenzo Santillian, Oscar Vazquez, Luis Aranda and Cristian Arcega) plus their teachers bring to the project. Despite advice from oceanic engineers that their underwater robot (aptly named Stinky) would require expensive glass syntactic flotation foam, the group charge forward with all they could afford which was PVC pipe, some duct tape and oh yes some tampons!

This documentary is timely given the current state of immigration in the US where unprecedented numbers of illegal minors are bombarding the US for a chance at a better life. Although the documentary doesn’t advocate one way or another, what it does do cleverly is create empathy for smart kids who just want to make something of themselves and contribute to moving the field of robotics further; One can’t argue with that.

The most moving and haunting part of this movie for me is ten years on from the memorable win, how the lives of these four incredible boys has evolved and diversified and just how much these boys; sons of undocumented parents themselves are willing to give back to kids who they have inspired as a result of their actions.

Underwater Dreams Trailer


AMC Theatres Release: AMC will release the movie theatrically on July 11, 2014 at AMC Burbank in Los Angeles and AMC Empire 25 in New York. In addition, beginning July 19,

AMC will host community screenings free of charge for schools, non-profits and other communities whose members would be inspired and entertained by this movie. Requests for community screenings can be submitted via the film’s website: or by email

Check Local Listings for viewing details


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