Director: Jeff Orlowski
Cast: Richard Vevers, Zack Rago
Watch Chasing Coral online in the UK: Netflix
Read our interview with director Jeff Orlowski.
Five years ago, Chasing Ice gave us irrefutable evidence that climate change is happening. A beautiful, devastating documentary, it blew people away with images they’d never seen before. Chasing Coral does exactly the same.
Swapping melting ice for dying coral, director Jeff Orlowski once again crafts a piece of filmmaking that is heartbreakingly, stunningly important. Ice caps and glaciers are one thing, visible above the water and notably absent once gone, but coral reefs are easy to overlook, hidden beneath the surface. Chasing Coral dives into the unseen impacts of global warming, revealing that most of the reefs around Florida have died in the last three decades. It’s a problem that spans the globe, with over half of the reefs lost everywhere from Hawaii to Australia. The damage isn’t just being done – it’s already happened.
Orlowski is one of the best filmmakers in the world at capturing the scary rate of decline in our natural world – and the answer is not just in his astonishing, accomplished camerawork, but in his ability to find a human story to match the statistical horrors. Pictures are one thing, but Orlowski feels the screen with people too, giving us double the reason to care about what we’re seeing. Where Chasing Ice had photographer James Balog, Chasing Coral has Richard Vevers, an ad man who quit the marketing game to work in ocean conservation. And, for good measure, there’s Zack Rago, a coral nerd with the camera skills to help Vevers find the visual evidence he’s after to document the coral bleaching that is spreading across the planet’s seabeds.
Both of them share a tangible passion for sharing the beauty of the ocean with others – and, as a result, securing proof of climate change’s consequences. It’s that passion which makes Orlowski’s work so vital. “Chasing” is the operative word in the film’s title, and there’s an urgency to their crusade to gather evidence that’s as sincere as it is contagious. There’s a frustration in their failed first attempts that is genuinely saddening – and, by the time their automated rigs aren’t working and they’re manually operating time-lapse cameras underwater, a satisfaction in seeing their hard work pay off. Watching Rago geek out upon meeting a veteran in the field, and a hero of his, is a bonus.
Editor Davis Coombe, who also worked on Chasing Ice and the superb Casting JonBenet, pieces together Orlowski’s footage with wonderful balance and jaw-dropping scale. The colourful kaleidoscope of the wildlife makes for mesmerising, gob-smacking cinema, as we see, close up, the intricate ecosystems that surround coral reefs, from tiny animals to fluctuating tentacles. What are almost aerial shots of majestic, expansive aquatic cities do the job of hundreds of science lectures in the blink of an eye, instilling a sense of wonder that works in symbiosis with the informed talking heads on display.
All of that makes for a striking contrast to the dull graveyards found years later. But where Chasing Ice concluded with a tragic sense of loss, Chasing Coral chooses to end on a more uplifting note of hope. “Tell me how long till we wake up,” asks the song over the end credits, co-written by Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Dan Romer, who composes the movie’s gorgeous, moving score with Saul Simon MacWilliams.
“It’s not like we don’t have the money. It’s not like we don’t have the resources. It’s not like we don’t have the brains,” points out one expert. And there is some hope to be found, from Rago’s decision to turn his work into a touring schoolbus to educate and encourage the public, to Vever’s decision to form The Ocean Agency, effectively a marketing company for the whole ocean, trying to develop seed banks for future coral growth.
Chasing Ice’s message sparked a huge campaign and a strong public response. That’s partly thanks to its release on Netflix, which helped it reach as many viewers as possible. The news that the streaming giant has already acquired Chasing Coral as a Netflix original, then, puts this powerful movie in a position to really make a difference. In a month when US President Donald Trump has taken American out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, global awareness has never been more pertinent – Chasing Coral could not be released at a more crucial time. Yet even then, there is hope, as US cities such as Los Angeles and Pittsburgh have all indicated their plan to ignore the President and continue with the Paris Agreement anyway. How long until we wake up? Chasing Coral is an urgent alarm clock that inspires you to open your eyes immediately.
Chasing Coral is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.