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Q+A with Deep Water Director Louise Osmond

Text by Ryan Bradley   Illustration courtesy IFC Films
Illustration: Ship in stormy sea

August 24, 2007

Deep Water, a stunning new documentary released today, is about an unlikely adventurer: an Englishman named Donald Crowhurst. He was a 36-year-old father of four and owner of a failing electronics business when, in 1968, the Sunday Times of London announced the first non-stop, solo, round-the-world sailing race. The island nation was captivated, but none more than Crowhurst, who was determined to win, despite having no experience in long-distance sailing.

Remarkably, for a time, it looked as if he just might take the prize—but troubling truths come to light, and Deep Water drifts into ever darker and unsettling waters as Crowhurst faces personal and economic ruin. Adventure spoke with the film's co-director, Louise Osmond, about Crowhurst, the process of unraveling his complex psyche, and what makes this story such a classic.

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It's such a haunting story, I'm sure there were many things that attracted you to this project, but is there one element of Deep Water you find particularly compelling?
Louise Osmond: I couldn't help but sympathize with Crowhurst's dream of wanting to take on this challenge, and the adventure of it, and his desire to prove himself to be worth something. All of us have been in positions in life where we've been in a little over our heads. There was something amazingly human about the fact that he tried to do this thing that gathered this awful momentum. Then he could never quite step off the train.

The movie really probes deep into Crowhurst's psyche, how did you pull this off?
There's always going to be speculation as to what he was going through, but I think [his family] was in a position to understand him. As they knew him best, they were best able to lead us toward what might have happened. They were amazingly generous to be in the film; and they were the key to unlocking his character.

You recreated the cabin of his boat, the Teignmouth Electron. Why?
After the boat was found in the mid-Atlantic, the Sunday Times took a series of photographs of its interior. They were really disturbing photographs, in a way, because the cabin was absolutely ripped apart. The entrails off all the machinery in the boat had been taken apart because Crowhurst had been trying to repair his radio so he could speak to his wife. There was something amazingly evocative about it. You felt, as you looked at those pictures, that the chaos symbolized the distressed state of mind he felt near the end of his voyage.

You have a background in history, which you studied at Oxford. How has this informed your filmmaking?
Most of the films I've done recently have tended to sit in the middle of this strange Venn diagram of history and adventure. It's a really rich area, exploring the forces that compel people to go out and take on these adventures. At each period in history, there are things that inspire them or require them to go out and do this extraordinary things. But somehow they're always relevant to today, because we still feel the same impulses, though less often.

What impulses were driving Crowhurst?
He was the first generation to succeeded World War II. I think men of that era were acutely aware that there was a whole generation who preceded them who had proved themselves in war. I think men of Crowhurst's generation had a great desire, even in peacetime, to prove they were worth something, particularly for a romantic like Crowhurst, whose business was failing and who seemed to be becoming a rather average person in life. The fact that he'd grown up far from home, in India, gave him a kind of romance to him that fueled his desire. But also, on a very simple level, he just wanted to prove that he could do something extraordinary. And that's timeless. 

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