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In The Rescue, the directors of the Oscar-winning Free Solo go from high to low

In The Rescue, the directors of the Oscar-winning Free Solo go from high to low

The least likely to bring people from all over the world together as one occurred between June 23 and July 10, 2018, when 12 members of a boys soccer team and their coach were trapped in the Tham Luang cave, in northern Thailand. The monsoon had arrived early, and heavy rain flooded parts of the 612-mile-long serpentine cavern, stranding the group inside. What followed is the subject of E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chins E. Chia Vasardhellyi & Jimmy Chan s The Next Generation. The Rescue Team is on the hunt for The Right Rescuer! Intense and suspenseful, the film does for claustrophobics what the filmmakers' Oscar-winning Free Solo (2018), about scaling El Capitan, does to those afraid of heights.

The initial rescue effort is confusing and chaotic. Not only was the cave filled with water, but nobody knew where the boys and their coach were or even if they were still alive. The authorities brought in Royal Thai Navy SEALs (If its water, a general explains matter-of-factly if irrelevantly, they bring in the SEALS). But despite their tenacity and courage (one died from oxygen deprivation during the operation, and another afterward from an infection), the elite unit was unable to locate the lost boys. Thousands of Thais and volunteers from all over the world, including US Special Forces, joined in, but to no avail. They didn't have the appropriate equipment, nor the expertise. But who did it?

The amateur cave-divers of Britain are a small group of divers who are obsessed with exploring flooded, labyrinthine, and congested underground chambers (a scene of nave diver squeezed himself through mucky crevice that looks as narrow as sandbox will give you the heebie-jeebys). Vasarhelyi and Chin examine the backstory and motivations of these media-shy heroes. Many of them took up this extreme sport as a means to prove themselves after being subjected to ostracism and bullying growing up. Acknowledging that most people find their hobbies frustrating and even depressing, they describe how it provides them with calm, a break from bad memories and the stresses of everyday life. Once I get underwater, says one, all that disappears.

At first, the Thai SEALs denied access to the cave to these unlikely rescuers, some of whom were long in the tooth and fitted with jerry-rigged gear. But as the days passed and their own efforts sailed by, the SEALS allowed the newcomers to do what they could.

They endured a harrowing struggle, slowed progress, and with no luck, they gave up hope. They figured that the boys couldnt have survived in such conditions after such a long time, so they should pack up and go. Rick Stanton and John Volanthan, the two top divers, decided to give it another try. They entered an undiscovered cavern and immediately detected a foul odor. They found the dead, all alive and huddled in a recess, gaunt from hunger but in good spirits, the smell of two weeks of accumulated human waste coming from the deceased.

The moment was captured by Volanthan, his light picking up the spectral figures which looked like lost souls in the Inferno, and the video was broadcast via a Wi-Fi connection to the world. Volanthan is often heard saying, Believe. He wasnt talking to the children, he recalls, but a telling myself that this is real.

Even the most devout of viewers may not be able to hold back a tear at this point. Such compelling sequences, some gleaned from international news feeds and local Thai footage, and many culled from a cache of 87 hours of previously unseen footage released to the filmmakers by the Thai government, add vivid urgency.

To add to the actual footage, the filmmakers recreated the rescue attempts with rescue participants in a water tank at the British Pinewood Studios, enhancing the dramatic tension while also maintaining realism, but at thwarting authenticity. Reenactments have become increasingly common in documentaries, often seamlessly interwoven with actual footage, as is the case here, and their usage presents both possibilities and challenges for the genre.

The hardest part of the task was finding the boys and their coach back in the cave. The hard part was getting them out, hauling them through 112 miles of narrow, flooded passageways. The divers devised a controversial plan, but it was incredibly arduous.

The minutiae of the rescue and the diverse group of amateur divers who contributed to it are fascinating, exciting, and moving. But what about those who were rescued? We only get glimpses of them because the filmmakers didn't own the rights to their stories. Watching them as they are taken one by one from the cave to the cheers of the thousands who made it possible and of those millions who are witnessing it around the world is nevertheless a reminder that good will and concerted action can still make miracles happen.

Beginning Oct. 15 at the AMC Boston Common Cinema and Coolidge Corner Theatre, The Rescue will be shown at Boston Common and Climate Corner Theatres. Vasarhelyi will appear in person at the Coolidge on Oct. 16 after the 2 p.m. and 7 a. m at screenings in october's Q&A moderated by Harvard professor Robb Moss. For more information on her appearance, visit Go to for more information on the film.

Peter Keough can be reached at

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