________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 1999

cover Drowning in Dreams.

Tim Southam (Director). Michael Allder (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: The National Film Board of Canada, 1998.
72 min., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9197 057.

Subject Headings:
Broennle, Fred.
Hague, Charles King.
Gunilda (Steam yacht).
Shipwrecks-Superior, Lake.
Treasure-trove-Superior, Lake.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Luella Sumner.

*** /4


Drowning in Dreams enters the dark and illusory world of one man's obsession. A story of greed and redemption, guilt and death, the film charts the course of a fatal dream as Fred Broennle plumbs the chilly depths of Lake Superior in a quest to raise the luxury steam yacht Gunilda.
Through personal interviews with King Hague's widow, Fred Broennle's ex-wife and son, local citizens of Rossport (the tiny town on Lake Superior near the site of the sinking), friends and associates of Broennle, other divers and government officials, the unlikely and rather unreal story emerges. The Gunilda was owned by wealthy Americans and sank near Rossport in 1911 with no loss of life. The Americans left the yacht in its watery grave and never returned. Fred Broennle, a diver and marine salvage operator in Thunder Bay, became interested in the prospect of raising the Gunilda. With King Hague, he began diving the wreck. Hague did not resurface after a dive and was given up for dead. (His decomposing body was recovered six years later, a gruesome event that was filmed and used in this video.) Broennle blamed himself for his partner's death, but that did not stop him from continuing. Obsessed with the Gunilda, he considered it "his" ship and thought that he would realize great riches if he could raise it. Broennle was making a lot of money with his marine salvage business, and many of the interviews with him, his ex-wife and some of his friends are concerned with his extravagant lifestyle in the '70's in Thunder Bay, his expensive home, vehicles, etc. However, Broennle decided to build a submersible, a submarine, to help in retrieving the Gunilda, and he sank all his money into the project. The submersible was built, but Broennle was bankrupted. He lost everything, including his business and home, but not his obsession. The film, made in 1998, shows his home at the time, a rundown house. Broennle still visits the site of the wreck and argues with government officials, whose job it is to protect wreck sites from being despoiled, that the Gunilda belongs to him and him alone.
     The beginning of this video is disjointed, confusing and uninteresting. If this reviewer had not been obligated to view the film, the temptation to push the "off" button would have been great! However, once you get past the long introduction and into the story, you become first interested, then fascinated, and finally captured. The interview of the ex-wife is like a glimpse into the pages of a lurid tabloid which tells the dirty secrets of the star. The footage of the finding of the body of the drowned Hague was on the gruesome side, and there is one short episode containing an off-colour remark that seemed totally gratuitous. Other than these small objections, I recommend this video to anyone, whether interested in diving, ship wrecks, history of lake Superior, or just as a study in human behaviour.


Luella Sumner is the librarian at Red Rock Public Library in Red Rock, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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