It is high noon on Memorial Day at Crown Beach, Alameda, California. A tall, middle-aged, fully dressed man walks up to his shoulders into the cold shallow waters of San Francisco Bay, and waits. Police and Fire units show up in droves, and wait. A good-sized crowd gathers to watch the scene, and waits.
They all watch, transfixed, as the sand in the man’s hourglass runs out. Succumbing to hypothermia, he loses consciousness within the hour. His body is left to drift back to shore, untouched, for twenty-two minutes.
SHALLOW WATERS is a documentary film that deconstructs the events of that hour in an attempt to understand what happened and why. Specifically, the film seeks to understand both the apparent inaction of the first responders and the actions of Raymond Zack. What were they all waiting for?
The film’s temporal structure (its backbone) is provided by the forty-odd calls between the Fire, Police, and Coast Guard personnel: percussive, dry, detached. Within this web of emergency calls are interwoven interviews with Zack’s friends, family, and priest, as well as beautifully preserved 8mm footage of Ray, circa 1969, a grinning towheaded kid. Various beach witnesses contribute their vivid and emotional testimony as to their own frustration, anger, and, sometimes, guilt.
Ray’s foster mother, who witnessed Ray’s ultimate agony from the beach, recounts for us his long time struggles: his inability to find work in spite of his business degree, and the ever increasing sense of alienation that ate away at his capacity to hope, in spite of his deeply religious makeup.
Did Ray wade out into the waters of Crown Memorial Beach to commit suicide that day, or was he following in the long tradition of religious fanatics, saints, and prophets who believe that God will answer those who endure sacrifice and pain to reach out to Him?
There's no question that Raymond Zack was unbalanced and in pain that Memorial Day. There is also no question that he could have been saved by any combination of emergency personnel, who instead followed orders to keep their boots dry, citing policy and protocol. That policy is unapologetically detailed for us by the head of the powerful Alameda firemen's union.
All along the dramatic crescendo of Raymond Zack’s slow drowning, what emerges is as much a portrait of Ray as of the society that, little by little, ended up letting him drown.
Before wading out Ray told his mother that he was going to pray. He told the same thing to the kite-surfer (the only person to make contact with him) who asked him what he was doing. "Praying" he said; but he never said what for.
Witnesses agree that Ray kept turning his head around, back towards the beach and the assembled firemen and policemen. Was he afraid that they would approach him, as some claim, or was he waiting to be rescued, as a sign that his life - after all - did have value?
Jaime Longhi, Producer / Director
Jaime Longhi grew up in Brooklyn and then Manhattan, shuttling between the Juilliard School of Music and Bronx H.S. of Science until he was shipped off to England for further studies, which he never pursued. Instead, he became interested in film editing, working in commercials under the direction of Hugh Hudson (Greystoke, Chariots of Fire) and Alan Marshall. Music became a stronger magnet for him and he left London to play guitar and sing folk-music and blues in Rome and Paris, eventually becoming a fixture on the European concert scene with his group 22/7.
After seventeen years spent in Europe, Longhi returned to the States. He served as Managing Partner in a law firm specializing in Negligence and Civil Rights, including cases involving police brutality. After 30 years of legal drama, and many adventures, Longhi decided to turn his focus back to cinema and the challenge of making film. He lives in Northwest CT with his wife, a French writer "Shallow Waters: The Public Death of Raymond Zack" is a first film for Jaime Longhi.