The immediate challenge director Chai Vasarhelyi faced in making “The Rescue” was that there was no footage of the gripping 2018 rescue attempt to save 12 young members of a Thai soccer club and their coach from an underwater cave. Clips from the news was all they had to work with.
But Vasharhelyi says that didn’t deter her and fellow filmmaker Jimmy Chin from telling the awe-inspiring tale. “This idea of so many different people from different, religions, colors, creed, volunteers and military all coming together — and only together were they able to affect this impossible rescue,” she says.
Vasarhelyi added that she and Chin were based a world away from Thailand when they started to make the film, and ran into yet another challenge — the pandemic. Interviews therefore needed to be completed over Zoom and remotely.
In piecing the storytelling together without access to footage, dramatic reenactments with divers would play a crucial role. Never having done a reenactment before, they would have to create a water tank. Says Vasarhelyi, “We had inherited from National Geographic a 3D scan of the cave. We never would have had that access to the cave because of the pandemic.” So a cave was made, but at the time, they could only afford “five feet of cave.” As events unfolded, they suddenly had “three times as much cave.”
As the story came together, editor Bob Eisenhardt wove in news footage with talking heads and reenactments. “We had the diver interviews early, but no one knew the whole story — there were 3,000 people, and we were piecing it together,” Eisenhardt says. “We had to rely on the footage of the recreations to tie all that together. The other element was that there were many, many threads to this story, and to try to weave them together and keep the story going forward was tricky. There was the newscast that would allow us to drop in some facts.” He adds, “The Navy SEALs tie came early, so we could get their early experience and then hand off to the divers.”
It was the footage of the Thai Navy SEALs that Vasarhelyi and the filmmakers negotiated over for two years. They were finally able to secure 87 hours of never-before-seen footage, which proved pivotal to their film “The Rescue.”
Regarding the lessons she learned after telling the story, Vasarhelyi says: “It comes back down to this idea of sheer moral courage and generosity. If we could all be our best selves and try our best, we’d be in a really different place. I think it comes down to what connects us as opposed to what divides us.”