Nine for IX: 'No Limits'

Audrey Mestre died on Oct. 12, 2002 while attempting a world-record free-dive off the coast of the Dominican Republic. AP Photo/Listin Diario

Directed by Alison Ellwood

Film summary
As a teenager, Audrey Mestre suffered from scoliosis, but in those formative years, she discovered a passion for the ocean. It offered her a sense of freedom, and the burdens she faced on dry land soon dissipated as she slipped below the surface. In the final stages of her Ph.D., Mestre was drawn to Cabo San Lucas, where she became infatuated with free diver Pipin Ferreras, a Cuban defector whose dives had put him at the forefront of the sport.

The two became a couple, and Mestre followed the often elusive, often raucous Ferreras on his almost spiritual quest to push his limits underwater. Soon enough, Mestre moved from support team member to ardent free diver and then to a world-class competitor who outshone her husband.

In 2002, after news arrived that a rival female diver named Tanya Streeter had successfully gone to a record-breaking 525 feet, Ferreras began preparations for Mestre to make a 561-foot dive off the coast of the Canary Islands. Having completed practice dives even deeper in the weeks leading up to the record attempt, Mestre was prepared. But because of a fateful decision before the dive, Mestre never resurfaced alive.

Director's bio: Alison Ellwood
Alison Ellwood is an award-winning documentary director, producer and editor. Most recently, she directed a feature-length documentary about the rise and demise of the classic American rock and roll band, The Eagles (title TBD). In addition, Ellwood directed a follow-up film on The Eagles covering the years between the band's breakup through its reunion and up to present day. A long-time collaborator with Alex Gibney, in 2011 she directed with him the offbeat feature-documentary "Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Kool Place," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Other feature-documentary film credits include producer/editor for Gibney's Academy Award nominated "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." She also was producer/editor of "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson," "My Trip to Al Qaeda," "Casino Jack and the United States of Money" and "Catching Hell" for ESPN Films, which was nominated for a Sports Emmy Award.

Alison's credits for television documentaries include the Emmy Award winning series "American High," "The Travelers" and "Sixteen." Her television producing credits include "The Human Behavior Experiments," "The Residents," "30 Days" and "Brick City."

As an editor, Ellwood earned her first Emmy Award for Frontline's "Living Below the Line," a cinema verité exploration of the impact of the welfare system. The film also was awarded an Emmy for best single current story, the grand prize of the RFK Awards and a blue ribbon at the American Film Festival. She has also edited award-winning films for Bill Moyers, American Experience, the Discovery Channel, Sundance Channel, Showtime and HBO.

Ellwood: Personal statement

When ESPN called me to ask whether I'd be interested in directing a film as part of its Nine for IX series, I was thrilled. I was less thrilled, however, when they told me what they intended for me to make a film about -- the tragic death of free diver Audrey Mestre. It was an obscure sport, one I knew nothing about. When I googled it, the first thing that came up was a YouTube video of Audrey's actual death. The footage deeply disturbed me, but I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I did due diligence and read everything I could -- all the on-line articles, Gary Smith's Sports Illustrated article, "The Rapture of the Deep" and Carlos Serra’s book, The Last Attempt. But it was The Dive, the ghostwritten autobiography of Audrey’s husband/diving coach, Pipin Ferreras, that raised the most questions for me. If Pipin was so deeply in love with her, as he claimed in the book, why did he push her so hard to make such a dangerous dive for which his team was ill-prepared and under-financed?

Though intrigued, I was still undecided about whether I wanted to make the film. Then I met Tanya Streeter. Tanya, to this day, holds the women's record for no-limits free diving. In fact, it was Tanya's record Audrey was trying to break when she died. In talking to Tanya, I began to truly understand the sport. She also became for me the living embodiment of Audrey -- a window into the spirit of the women (and men) who challenge themselves in this particular way.

What I love about ESPN Films is that while they are ostensibly about sports, they are really about the human condition. "No Limits," a free diving story, will be about the human quest to push beyond our limits -- way beyond. And, more important, what we discover by doing so.

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