‘The Rescue’ directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi on finding heroes

For Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi, they had a secret ingredient that helped them to muddy the water and recreate the underwater cave scenes in “The Rescue”: ground-up broccoli. “It is so expensive to drain a tank, so if it gets too muddy, you’re out a lot of money. So we’re like, we’ll put this into our tank and let’s hope it doesn’t disintegrate and mess up our water,” Vasarhelyi tells Gold Derby during our recent Meet the Experts: Film Documentary panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). This factor along with trying to get a set that could be used underwater and only having 10 days to shoot made this a uniquely difficult thing to film for the directors. “This is the hardest film that Jimmy and I have ever made, which is funny after coming off of ‘Free Solo.’“

“The Rescue,” from National Geographic and now available to stream on Disney+, explores the mission that led to the rescue of 12 members of a soccer team and their coach from being trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand in 2018. The film recreates the heroic efforts of recreational cave divers to move throughout the large cave, locate the trapped boys and then figure out a way to get them out. For their work on “Free Solo,” Chin and Vasarhelyi won the 2018 Oscar for Documentary Feature and also picked up two 2019 Emmys: Documentary Directing and Achievement in Interactive Media. Chin also picked up an Emmy for Non-Fiction Cinematography.

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When the team informed the rescue divers that they would be recreating their rescue mission, Chin found that many of them were actually very eager to be a part of the action. “They were quite excited by the prospect because they are very detail oriented and exacting types of people, as you might imagine for very technical cave divers. I think their participation in the film already showed their enthusiasm to tell their story.” He adds that having someone not familiar with what divers do being a part of this was unfathomable. “I don’t think any of us could have imagined a non-diver trying to show us what was happening. What you’re seeing is as accurate to the moment as possible.”

It took rescuers 10 days to locate the kids and another eight to finally get them out. Chin singles out an interesting fact about the team’s coach that helped the children make it that long. “The coach used to be a monk and was going through daily meditation with them to literally lower their heart rates and keep them calm.” He adds that panicking would have had the children burning a ton of calories and severely decreased their odds of survival. “By working with the soccer players and having meditate and slow down their breathing, that had a huge impact on their capacity to survive.”

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