Zecchini was so ambitious it made her tense and temperamental. She pushed herself too hard. Even other free divers thought so. But then, in 2017, during a competition in the Bahamas at the Vertical Blue, Zecchini met Keenan in his capacity as a safety diver. He offered to train her after Zecchini blacked out on successive dives. She flourished and broke a world record three days later (102 meters). The following day, her record was broken by Japanese phenom Hanako Hirose (103 meters), which pushed Alessia to break Hirose’s record the following day (104 meters). This triumphant experience solidified the bond between Zecchini and Keenan. “The Deepest Breath” is also a love story.
The pressure of the deep ocean is hell on the human body. Divers risk brain damage and permanent lung damage. There is something called a “lung squeeze,” and you really don’t want it to happen to you. Divers often black out underwater and must be rushed to the surface by the safety divers. CPR is administered while everyone is still in the water: there’s no time even to haul the diver up into the boat. There is traumatic footage of the moments when divers re-emerge to the surface, and they flail, their faces and bodies frozen in a full-body seize. Free divers wear wet suits and monofins, making them look like superhero mermaids as they undulate into the black. The pressure pulling divers down is called a “free fall.” Divers say it feels like flying.
McGann pulled together as much extant footage as possible from the various competitions, plus Zecchini and Keenan’s video recordings, video blogs, Instagram stories, etc. They documented their lives. Other free divers weigh in, and there are some conventional “talking head” interviews, particularly with the fathers of both Zecchini and Keenan, pained men who had to let their children go, who had to let them pursue this very dangerous thing, incomprehensible to most, but essential for the happiness of their children. Since free divers are followed by a hearty talented group of underwater cinematographers, there is existing footage of many of the dives. There are many famous spots free divers gravitate towards, the “vertical blue” in the Bahamas and the terrifying “blue hole” in Dahab, Egypt, with its deadly “arch.” The arch is the most dangerous place on earth for a free diver (“More dangerous than Mount Everest,” says one of the free divers). If you can make it through the arch and back up, you stand with the greats.