Making a documentary chronicling the events of the infamous Thai cave rescue mission was no easy feat for filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, especially because they hadn’t been on the ground to capture what was transpiring after 12 kids were stuck in a flooding cave in 2018.
Instead of just using footage from other news outlets who had been there, the “Free Solo” filmmakers decided to have the actual divers from that fateful retrieval reenact their mission, and the filmmakers negotiated with Thai Navy SEALs to release footage they had filmed.
“It’s footage from news cameras — we’re piecing together a CNN shot and a local Thai news shot and together, they make a scene — but we decided to do reenactments with the actual divers, reenacting the events,” Vasarhelyi told TheWrap’s Editor in Chief Sharon Waxman in a video interview during the Toronto International Film Festival.
“And then we had heard this rumor – the divers told us they remember cameras and GoPros but no one had seen the footage,” she added. “It was always this holy grail — we thought the Thai Navy SEALs had footage, and for two years we negotiated with these Thai Navy SEALs, but again, it’s something that couldn’t happen over Zoom. When we got vaccinated, we went to Thailand, we thought it would be 90 minutes of stuff but it turned out to be 87 hours of footage.
“In Thai, so we had to translate it all first,” co-director Jimmy Chin added.
“The Rescue” chronicles the search and rescue mission of a Thai soccer team from a cave in Thailand in 2018, when 12 members of the team plus their 25-year-old assistant coach were stuck after entering the cave. Shortly afterward, heavy rainfall flooded the cave system, blocking their way out, and the rescue mission turned into a massive operation involving international rescue teams.
Nine days after entering, two British divers named John Volanthen and Richard Stanton found the group 2.5 miles from the cave mouth. The boys were rescued one by one — one Thai NAVY Seal died during the rescue on July 6, and in December 2019, another Thai Navy SEAL died of blood infection.
Watch the full video above.