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With the DOC NYC festival having this week unveiled its 15-strong 2021 shortlist, early favorites for the best documentary Oscar have started to emerge.
Among those considered firmly in the running is The Rescue, National Geographic’s chronicling of the heroic efforts of a team of cave divers, alongside an international team of army personnel and volunteers, that in 2018 helped save a group of children and their soocer coach trapped in a submerged Thai cave that was flooding with water.
Alongside the global media attention the against-all-odds rescue attracted, adding some awards fire to the The Rescue‘s belly are its directors, the husband-and-wife team of Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, who won the Oscar in 2019 for Free Solo.
At a special screening in London on Thursday night ahead of the doc’s local release, Vasarhelyi introduced The Rescue and the team of British cave diving experts involved in the extraordinary operation, led by Rick Stanton and John Volanthen.
Speaking on stage, both described how they wanted the film to go beyond the headlines coming out at the time.
“The whole point of doing this operation was to show what was involved in getting those boys out,” said Stanton. “In many ways, the media made it look too easy, because every day the news bulletins would be ‘four boys out’ and that’s all that would be told. And we wanted to tell the deeper story of how that happened.”
Stanton added that it was “quite cathartic” seeing the film and people knowing what they’d gone through at the time.
Volanthen claimed that, during the rescue, they deliberately ignored the media. “That was quite an important thing — we just focused on what we did well, which was the diving,” he said. “So when we came home, I was certainly very surprised at the amount of attention that we received. But the reality of it is, we’re cave explorers and our passion, as the film showed, is the caving, cave diving and going to new places. And for me, that continues.”
Three years on from the rescue — which saw many members of the British team honored in the U.K.’s 2019 New Year Honours list — Stanton said he was “very proud” to have been “the spearhead of a pyramid of 5,000 people” involved in the operation.
“It just seems very simple to me,” added Volanthen, “that if you have that set of skills you would want to help somebody else’s child, and I think it’s just something that all of us felt, it was just we, as a group, had those peculiar set of skills.”
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