Thai Cave Rescue – Film Announced By National Geographic

Untitled Film Promises Exclusive Access and Never-Before-Seen Footage from the Dramatic 2018 Rescue of a Thai Soccer Team

CHIANG RAI, THAILAND – JUNE 28: British cave-divers John Volanthen walks out from Tham Luang Nang Non cave in full kit without any response to reporter’s questions on June 28, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Rescuers battle heavy rain in northern Thailand as they continued the search for 12 boys and their soccer coach who have been missing in Tham Luang Nang Non cave since Saturday night after monsoon rains blocked the main entrance. Teams of Navy SEAL divers worked their way through submerged passageways in the sprawling underground caverns as senior Thai government officials warned on Wednesday that time is running out and the search intensifies for the young soccer team, aged between 11 to 16, and their their 25-year-old coach, with soldiers and park rangers seeking other entry points into the cave system. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)

Following the success of Free Solo, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature earlier this month, National Geographic Documentary Films announces the greenlight of its next feature project. The upcoming film, which will document the dramatic 2018 rescue of a Thai soccer team trapped deep inside a flooding cave, is from Academy Award-winning director Kevin MacDonald (“One Day in September”), Emmy-winning producer John Battsek (“Manhunt: The Story of Bin Laden,” “One Day in September”), producer P.J. van Sandwijk (“American Dharma”) and executive producer Michael Lesslie (“Little Drummer Girl”).

On a cool June afternoon in the hilly region of northern Thailand, the Wild Boars youth soccer team was finishing practice early so that they could attend a teammate’s birthday party. Before heading to the party, the 12 boys and their assistant coach decided to explore a nearby system of caves — an outing that transformed into a two-week-long saga of survival and a story that would capture the attention of the world.

Thai Cave Rescue (working title) will chronicle the perilous world of cave diving, the bravery of the rescuers and the dedication of an entire community that made great sacrifices to save these young boys. “This rescue mission is more than just a story of hope, it’s a story of humanity coming together,” said MacDonald. “This film will represent a full 360° view of the crisis, told through unexpected angles and with untold stories.”

Featuring exclusive access to British cave divers Richard Stanton, John Volanthen, who were included in National Gegraphic’s 2019 list of Adventurers of the Year, along with Chris Jewell, Jason Mallinson, Connor Roe, Josh Bratchley and Jim Warny, along with in-depth interviews with Australian divers Dr. Richard Harris and Craig Challen, the film will bring to light the imagination and determination displayed during the heroic endeavour. Unlike most diving experiences, in which one relies on a team, once these divers were in the water they were on their own — completely dependent on their gear, always knowing that if it failed, that would be the end. There was no turning back — life or death was literally a breath of air away.

“The inherent drama of this rescue captured the attention of the world like few recent events have,” explained Battsek. “As producers, for P.J. and I to now have the opportunity to tell this remarkable story in partnership with the team at National Geographic Documentary Films, who have been responsible for some of the most successful and impactful feature documentaries of recent times, is extremely exciting.”

All the divers have agreed on one thing: none of this would have been a success if it were not for the Thai people. Many sacrifices were made — engineers helped pump millions of gallons of water out, Thai famers lost their crops and hundreds of volunteers worked day and night to help in any way they could. Similarly, Thai officials, the strong backbone of the entire operation who everyone greatly respected and trusted, was essential to its success. Through interviews with a diverse array of local citizens, the film will tell how the Thai people never lost hope, instead driving on until they reached a successful outcome.

The film originated with Storyteller Productions® and its producers P.J. van Sandwijk and Michael Lesslie, who approached Kevin MacDonald after the news of the successful outcome of the rescue mission and subsequently secured the rights of the British divers. This film marks the second production in a long-term strategic partnership between Storyteller Productions and Passion Pictures.

“I have long admired Kevin MacDonald’s artistic vision and virtuosity when it comes to authentic storytelling,” said Carolyn Bernstein, EVP of Scripted Content and Documentary Films for National Geographic. “I am elated to be working with him, John Battsek and P.J. van Sandwijk to help audiences better understand the complexities of this captivating story.”

“The Thai cave rescue had South Africans riveted, and glued to the media for updates. I am sure the film will capture their attention in the same way. After the success of Jane, and Free Solo in our market, we look forward to another exceptional production from National Geographic Documentary Films” said Evert Van Der Veer, General Manager, and Vice President Fox Networks Group: Africa.

National Geographic Documentary Films has achieved remarkable success in a very short amount of time. Most recently the critically acclaimed film, FREE SOLO won both the Academy Award and BAFTA for best documentary feature, in addition to Director’s Guild of America, Cinema Audio Society, Motion Picture Sound Editors, US Critics’ Choice and Cinema Eye wins. Last year, two films released under the documentary films’ banner, Jane and LA 92, made the Oscar short list for Best Documentary, and both won Emmys — LA 92 for Special Merit and Jane for Best Director and Best Cinematography. Additionally, in its premiere weekend, National Geographic’s 2018 Sundance and SXSW Audience Favourite Science Fair became the No. 1 new documentary film at the US box office for New York openings the weekend of Sept. 14.

About National Geographic Documentary Films

National Geographic Documentary Films is committed to bringing the world premium, feature documentaries that cover timely, provocative and globally relevant stories from the very best documentary filmmakers in the world. National Geographic Documentary Films is a division of National Geographic Partners, a joint venture between National Geographic and 21st Century Fox. Furthering knowledge and understanding of our world has been the core purpose of National Geographic for 131 years, and now we are committed to going deeper, pushing boundaries, going further for our consumers … and reaching over 730 million people around the world in 172 countries and 43 languages every month as we do it. NGP returns 27 percent of our proceeds to the nonprofit National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education. For more information visit or

About Passion Pictures

Passion Pictures’ first feature documentary, “One Day in September,” was conceived and produced by John Battsek and went on to win an Academy Award in 1999. Passion has since been at the forefront of feature documentary production, as evidenced by a prolific run of multiaward-winning films, a reputation for securing international theatrical releases and — as of 2019 — an unprecedented 14 consecutive years premiering films at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Notable titles include “Restrepo,” “The Tillman Story,” “The Imposter,” “Sergio,” “Searching for Sugar Man,” “Winter on Fire,” “Listen to Me Marlon” and “Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars” — these films and others have seen Passion collaborate with some of the most exciting filmmakers, writers, journalists, editors, composers, cinematographers and production partners working in the industry today.

About Storyteller Productions®

Founded by Michael Lesslie and P.J. van Sandwijk, Storyteller Productions® focuses on high-end television and film projects with wide diversity and global appeal. What sets Storyteller Productions apart is its global reach and its ability to fully finance its development in-house. The company has accumulated an extraordinary slate and developed unique relationships with some of the most sought-after filmmakers in the industry.

By Andrew Germishuys

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