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Sundance documentary 'Chasing Coral' resonates with PCHS student

Emily Billow meets "Chasing Coral" assistant editor Dave Wruck on Main Street during the Sundance Film Fesitval. Photo by Nan Chalat Noaker/Park Record
Nan Chalat Noaker/Park Record

While some Parkites may be rejoicing that the 2017 Sundance Film Festival has concluded, I am sad to see it end. For me, Sundance is a time of festivity. Scores of independent, diverse, and uniquely creative films from around the globe all congregate here – in our small town. This is something to celebrate!

Before Sundance commenced, I perused the list of films scheduled to screen. On the entire list, only one title caught my eye. The name of the documentary was “Chasing Coral” and I knew nothing of it other than what was said in the short description. However, I realized immediately that this was the film I needed to see. The synopsis mentioned reefs, carbon emissions, and “bleaching,” and I was hooked. The worldwide destruction of coral reefs is an environmental issue I feel strongly about. In school, I once spent a year-long assignment researching, reading books, and writing papers about coral reef destruction; you can see why the film interested me.

As an intern for The Park Record, I inquired about tickets. I had high hopes until I learned that this world premiere was expected to be a very popular and sought-after event. However, a week later, my film teacher made an announcement about an upcoming Sundance field trip. I listened intently and when I heard the words “Chasing Coral” come out of his mouth, I could not believe my luck.

On Thursday the 26th I finally got to see this masterpiece. The film starts with a team of divers, scientists, and photographers whose goal is to bring light to a significant but slightly unknown tragedy happening all around us: coral death. The team wants to capture time-lapse footage that will show this extreme coral reef degradation due to climate change.

Their initial challenge is developing underwater camera technology capable of capturing footage over such extended time periods. The lead character, Zackery Rago, is introduced first as a camera technician helping to develop the equipment, but he comes to the forefront as the scientists discover he is a self-proclaimed coral nerd. He has fish tanks inhabited with just coral (no fish)! He also serves as an intriguing connection to his childhood inspiration, John “Charlie” Veron, star of coral life TV specials, who appears in the film.

Technical difficulties with the time-lapse cameras add suspense, all while the team races against the clock to film the coral that is bleaching around them. Watching coral die every day takes a poignant toll on Zack. I lost it myself when he spoke about seeing his lifelong obsession disappear before his eyes. Emotions were high for everyone in the theater as the team members finally present their time-lapse findings, exhibiting eerie bleached coral skeletons.

Though it was difficult to watch, it was powerful, and it ends with an inspiring call to action. A montage of scientists confirm that carbon dioxide emissions must stop if we are going to save the coral reefs. The team is placing its hope in the next generation, and their rallying cry was, “Make science cool again!”

Seeing this film was an experience I won’t soon forget. Not only did the mesmerizing scenery and amazing people hold my attention, but I understood the science as they were talking about it. It is vitally important and you should all tune in to Netflix when it is released. That same day, after the screening, I saw the “Chasing Coral” team on Main Street and got to speak with assistant editor Dave Wruck. I was ecstatic, I told him about my coral enthusiasm and he left me with three great words, “Save the coral!”

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