7 Beats Per Minute (Canada) – 2024 SXSW Film & TV Festival Official Selection

7 Beats Per Minute (Canada)

The documentary “7 Beats Per Minute,” helmed by Canadian/Chinese/Mongol director Yuqi Kang screened at SXSW on March 8th, Friday. The director of “A Little Wisdom,” which was named the Best Canadian Feature and is available on Amazon Prime, has done a cinematically gorgeous job with this World Premiere.

The documentary  tracks Chinese freediver Jessea Lu (Lu Wenjie) as she attempts to break the world record in freediving. Jessea Lu has won 15 Gold Medals in international competition. She seems to have a compulsion to go deeper and force herself “so close to death and close to the abyss.” Freediving seems less a sport than a compulsion to risk death. Jessea Lu trains herself to hold her breath for long periods of time and, during her world dive attempt, blacks out and is unconscious for nearly 8 minutes after reaching the surface. Her near-death experience causes her to return to the scene of what she later refers to as her “rebirth” in the Bahamas at the Blue Hole.

Every frame of this story of freedivers is like a stroll through a world class exhibit of paintings/photographs. The gorgeous cinematography is by a team of cinematographers (including underwater photography) supervised by Kalina Bertin and Alex Lampron. Filmmaker Yugi Kang followed Jessea Lu for five years. They became close.  Yuqi seems to be trying to get Jessea Lu to answer the question, “What is this need to go deeper?”Jessea Lu’s near-death experience causes her to return to the scene of what she later refers to as her “rebirth” in the Bahamas at the Blue Hole.


Jessea Lu in "7 Beats Per Minute" at SXSW 2024

7 Beats Per Minute” at SXSW.

The images in this documentary are phenomenally beautiful. They are absolutely striking. Whether it is Jessea Lu standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean or the moon through a dark, cloudy sky, every image is beautifully shot and framed. Visually, it is a gorgeous film. The original music (Frannie Holder, Mario Sevigny, Lauren Belec) and sound design (Sasha Ratcliffe) contribute to the film’s appeal with whale-like noises.

The question of what compels Jessea Lu to dive ever deeper is answered somewhat by her response that she feels the existence of herself shrinking when in the water. In the water she feels safe and content. She especially feels that way when surrounded by the safety divers who accompany a freediver to the surface. These safety divers saved her life in 2018 at the Blue Hole in the Bahamas.


There are characters who wander into frame and speak. There is no identification of who “Francesca” is. “Kirk” is onscreen making several questionable pronouncements, yet not really very well identified, either. We eventually figure out that Kirk runs the school to train safety divers.

Kirk makes several remarks that seem tenuous at best.

For one, he says that the critical point of hypoxia is getting to the surface, but, because of the safety divers, “it’s not having to worry about your safety.”


Just a few minutes later the dialogue onscreen (subtitles) remarks that “the tension is heavy and contagious” and that “fear is magnified.” Another Kirk pronouncement is “It’s absolutely a mental game.” I would agree that the diver’s mental state contributes to success or failure, but not breathing is much more a physical game than a mental game. The body fights for oxygen. During a deep dive like these, the diver feels that he/she is suffocating. That is physical, and not a “game” at all.

So, the gorgeous photography is breathtakingly beautiful. The attention to the details of who is speaking at any given moment: less impressive.


Jessea Lu and Yuqi Kang in “7 Beats Per Minute” at SXSW on March 8, 2024.

Naturally, the near-death dive in 2018 is the climactic high point of the film, providing its most dramatic moments. I found it odd that, after Jessea Lu nearly dies during her attempt at breaking the world record and lies there, on deck, unconscious for nearly 8 minutes, the film later shows the team celebrating that day as her “rebirth.”

Jessea Lu even changed her birth date on her social media platforms to reflect the day she almost died in the Bahamas. Jessea Lu operates much differently than I do in memorializing days when bad things happened to her. I have blocked out the exact dates of my parents’ deaths, because it is so painful to remember. Jessea Lu has embraced the date on which she almost died and celebrates it. We can argue that she DID live and, therefore, it is a happy day for her, but is it really?

Because Yuqi,  the filmmaker, is constantly probing to find out what makes Jessea Lu tick, we learn much, much more about her potential motives for freediving. Jessea Lu recounts a first suicide attempt at the age of six.

Her mother and father split when she was young. Her mother told Jessea Lu when she was eight, that she would be better off if Jessea Lu were dead. Words that describe Jessea Lu are “lonely” and “heartbroken.” Jessea Lu says “I was always miserable growing up.” She describes verbal and physical attacks as a youngster and received no physical intimacy from her mother in the form of hugs, etc.  Keep in mind that Jessea Lu is the product of China’s “one child” policy years, when boys were much preferred. Jessea Lu is describing a broken soul. She wants and needs someone to fill that void from her childhood. She wants to be able to do whatever she wants to do with someone 100% devoted to protecting her life.

It is this deep desire for autonomy, plus someone checking on her, someone in her corner, that motivates Jessea Lu. She convinces filmmaker Yuqi Kang to become her safety diver and dive with her in an out-of-the-way spot near the Blue Hole, out of competition. Yuqi will later question whether a line has been crossed between  director and  subject, saying, “I’m here to support you, but at some point it becomes too much.” The tone of voice reveals that there is (as we say in the U.S.) “trouble in River City.”

Much of the conflict within the film focuses on the relationship between the diver (Jessea Lu) and the filmmaker (Yuqi Kang). Yuqi says, “Perhaps I have become an intruder, emotionally stuck in a dark place…I feel stuck, but I move forward with Jessea Lu because we are a team.”


The film is so beautiful  in its gorgeous imagery that the question of Jessea Lu’s emotional status doesn’t immediately emerge. We see Jessea Lu presented as a national TV star on Go Fighting, which is streamed to 10 million Chinese viewers, and celebrates Jessea Lu’s status as a Freediving Goddess.

Jessea Lu says that her goal in freediving (which she did not take up as a sport until the age of 30) is “to help myself have a more enjoyable life.” To survive her early psychological abuse, she learned to focus on surviving and not allowing her mother’s hurtful remarks to damage her—(although it obviously has). Yuqi has followed Jessea Lu’s exploits for 5 years. (It would be interesting to see whether the duo still have a friendship/partnership in 5 years’ time and, if so, what it is like.)

At film’s end, Jessea Lu (who says she has not seen her family members back in Changzhou, China for years) receives a message from her mother that acknowledge that “home should not be a war zone.” Jessea Lu has a PhD in Pharmacology, but she seems to need a Significant Other in her life. She lays out “20 years of the struggle in my heart” and  frightens us with talk of how the ocean, like the amniotic fluid that sustains a child before birth, might be “beckoning forgotten children to return.”

But, by film’s end, she expresses a desire to “connect to the force of life,” to  let “the natural flow of life force” dominate her future.

We wish her well as this outstanding 1 hour and 40 minute documentary concludes.