In 2018, the world was captivated by the story of 12 soccer players and their coach who were trapped in a cave in Thailand for 18 days. “The Rescue” has since been made into a National Geographic documentary directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, with special focus on all of the cave divers who risked their lives to save the boys. “We were both riveted by the story as it was unfolding in real time,” Chin tells Gold Derby in our Meet the Experts: Documentary panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). “I think as parents we were very empathetic to the families involved.”
Chin was interested in the story because of the “moral courage” of the heroes involved. “These divers who end up going in to save these kids really have everything to lose,” he says. “A lot of people feel like they know the story because they followed it, but in fact I don’t think people really know what happened. Essentially these amateur divers from the U.K. and Australia are the only ones that can enact this wild, outrageous plan at the end. There’s a ticking clock and they are the only ones that have the skillset to do this rescue.”
Another reason Chin became involved in the project was because of how it’s ultimately “a story about people coming from very different backgrounds and countries and belief systems.” He adds, “[They] all set aside their differences to come in and try to achieve this impossible rescue. That, we felt, was also timely given how divided the world is.”
“The Rescue” blends together real-life footage with dramatic reenactments, with many of the divers recreating their heroic acts for the camera. Chin readily admits, “We had some pretty significant challenges with this film in the fact that for the principal action of the rescue there was very, very little footage. Barely anything. And for us as filmmakers, we always like to bring people into the moment, really immerse people into these stories.” In order to give viewers a fully “visceral” experience, Chin thought, “Why don’t we bring the actual participants, the divers, together and have them demonstrate exactly what they did?”
Also in our exclusive video interview, Chin talks about Saman Kunan, the former Thai Navy SEAL who died trying to save the boys. “There was this huge conglomeration of different volunteers [and] we really wanted to bring them in and share their perspective,” he notes. Chin is an Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature for “Free Solo” (2018).
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