September 18, 2021


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Elizabeth Chai Vasarheli, co-director of Free Solo, talks about the Toronto Dock

3 min read

Eight months after winning the documentary Oscar for “Free Solo”, directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelli and Jimmy Chin began work on their next documentary project: “The Rescue” from National Geographic. The guiding pair used dramatic 2018 footage and exclusive interviews 2018 to dramatically tell the story of the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their football coach from a flood cave. In contrast to “Free Solo” and their 2015 documentary “Pole”, Vasarheli and Chin relied on others to create footage, zoom interviews and re-feedback “The Rescue”. Film screens at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Was “The Rescue” a commissioned project or did you bring the idea to National Geographic?

Vasarhelyi: Controls the rights to National Geographic footage, and [Jimmy] And I asked if we could handle it. We followed the project because it’s a story we just liked.

“The Rescue” uses footage never seen before shot by Thai Navy seals. When did you discover that footage exists?

Vasarhelyi: We only heard rumors from divers that they remembered to carry GoPros. When we met with the Thai Navy SEALs in person, we expected that they would have a maximum of 10 minutes of shoe-together material. When we finally reached an agreement with them, we realized that there were 87 hours of all the amazing footage of what happened inside the cave [including] Kids own footage. It was like looking behind a screen because we had no idea what was involved because we had never seen images of it.

From that hour-by-hour cave footage, how did you know it had to be brought to the movies?

Vasarhelyi: Movie shots – which I think are Holy Grail shots – when the kids are found and John is drowned. [Volanthen] Leads them to a motivating exhilaration.

“The Rescue” contains a series of rearrangements. You and Jimmy never did film reenactment, so how did you get in touch with it?

In an ideal world, we would portray the actual participants in the actual cave, but because of the covid we could not go to Thailand, so we depicted the real divers by reactivating some part of their account from being rescued in a tank in England. Our aim was to try to make them as influential as possible. It ends up as a passage of real footage from GoPros and reenactment.

The boys who were rescued from the cave were not photographed interviewed. Why did you decide not to include their voices in “The Rescue”?
Vasarhelyi: Another studio who has a previous agreement with the owner of children’s rights. We tried and did everything in our power to get some access to them, but it didn’t work.

“The Rescue” is your first film since winning an Oscar for “Free Solo”. Is it nervous-breaking to come out with a new film even after the acclaim of “Free Solo”? And do you feel pressured to achieve the same level of success with this film?

Vasarheli: Every time we make a new film, we feel very responsible and stressed, that’s what we are. Mostly because someone has trusted us to share their story with the world, so we have to get it right. Our experience with “Free Solo” was very special and each film is different. We love “The Rescue” and spending time with this film during the epidemic is incredibly special.

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