Chasing Coral *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Jeff Orlowski.
Written by: Davis Coombe & Vickie Curtis & Jeff Orlowski.
There have no shortage of global warming/environmental documentaries in recent years – they have become a staple ever since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth – and arguably even before then. The films, which are all well-meaning, have a tendency to be rather dull and preachy, as scientists and other experts explain the problems, and what we do to correct them – most often, the films end with their rousing scores swelling beneath an inspirational speech, and then a website to go to “learn more”. Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Coral doesn’t entirely escape those traps – it certainly has the swelling score and the website during the end credits. Yet, it works better than most because there is more of a reason why you should see the movie, and not just read an article or listen to a speech – and that is the films visuals, which are beautiful, mesmerizing and ultimately sad.
The film is about coral – which are massive living things under the sea, made up of many smaller organisms. Coral is necessary in order to have healthy underwater ecosystems – where fish can gather, and feed. Coral disappear, smaller fish disappear, and then larger fish disappear, and all the way up the food chain. As one scientist says “Do we need coral? Well, do we need trees?”
The problem of disappearing coral has been documented before – in articles, etc. – but what makes Chasing Coral fascinating is that the filmmakers decided to try and document a massive coral bleaching event – essentially, over the course of a summer, when the temperature goes up as little as 2 degrees, coral tries to protect themselves, as if they cannot, they end up going white (bleaching), and eventually dying. The final part of the movie is essentially looking at the footage the filmmakers got – and how, over that span, thriving coral dying in a matter of months. The footage takes things out of the “theoretical” – and becomes impossible to deny that something is happening. The images speak for themselves.
Before then though, there are a lot of people talking about coral – and while it’s all rather interesting, it isn’t always that enthralling. The first part of Chasing Coral is almost a making up Chasing Coral documentary – starting with Richard Vevers, a former ad executive, who got tired of that life, and decided to dedicate it to something more useful. Vevers is key to the film as he understands the very basic principle of the film – that if all you have is scientists talking about coral, no one is going to sit up and listen. He watched director Jeff Orlowski’s other documentary – Chasing Ice – and thought that the film was essentially the same thing he wanted to do with coral. In order to do what they want though, they need to create cameras capable of taking time lapse photos, under salt water, for months on end. Enter Zack Rago – who along with others try and do just that. Rago becomes a focus of the film, because he’s not just a camera guy, but a self-professed “coral nerd” – who ends up becoming much more emotionally involved than he thought.