Sundance London 2017 Review: Chasing Coral

Eye Opener

A strong message backed up by other-wordly visuals, the film is a stark reminder of humans' destructive nature.

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Chasing Coral is a disturbing insight into the world of coral bleaching, and the disastrous consequences of global warming on our planet. A heart-wrenching documentary on humans’ impact on the natural world, Jeff Orlowski reveals in painstaking detail the life and death of corals in a modern climate, and consequentially, their disappearance from our oceans.

Working as an insight into scientists’ exploration of the bleaching phenomenon and a relay of the difficulties in capturing it on film, Orlowski has created a movie that is tactile and impassioned – a plea to generations across the planet to band together and stop this effect on our ocean species.

With the help of advertising expert Richard Vevers and self-proclaimed ‘coral nerd’ Zackery Rago, the team set out to film destinations across the world with ground-breaking time lapse technology to assess the coral reef damage done through bleaching. Interviews with scientists, technicians, and a plethora of other activists pepper the film with the undeniable evidence – and a reality that is painful to witness.

For those unaware, the film goes into great detail on what exactly this ‘bleaching’ is and its effect on underwater ecosystems. Describing it loosely, bleaching is a direct result of our seas heating up through global warming, with corals losing their photosynthesising cells and dying out as the temperature rises. It’s a race against time to stop the damage from spreading, and its consequences are irreversible.

Whilst the vision of these skeletal reefs is harrowing, the exploration of the types of coral and their individual beauty that the film parallels against is almost alien in quality. Arguably the most amazing part of the filming comes from the beauty of the corals themselves. Branching across a colour palette so psychedelic it almost hurts your eyes, the sheer volume and variety of these complex creatures is a focal point for the team throughout.

It’s genuinely upsetting to watch the intensity and vibrancy of the coral fade to white, then into non-existence. The team reflect their emotional investment with gloomy scenes more than once, relaying a dark – or rather, bright white – timeline that doesn’t bode well for the future.

Chasing Coral’s main goal is to reach out to a younger generation that can enact change on the destructive path humanity has set itself on. It aims to prove climate change’s disastrous effects on not only us, but the world around us, and desperately seeks to rectify this in years to come. It’s too late for over 50% of the world’s corals. A terrifying number. But it isn’t too late to take steps to save the other 50% – and it’s the youth that can bring this to action.

Much like with Orlowski’s previous work, Chasing Ice, he has created a film that not only demonstrates the reality of what is happening to our planet, but makes it poignant enough that we feel the damage as much as we see it. Earning the Audience Award for Documentary Film at Sundance 2017 as well as BIFF, Call to Action, and People’s Choice at Boulder International Film Festival; it’s clear to see that his message is getting through to the audiences exposed to his intimate and detailed style.

Offering a narrative laced with breath-taking visuals and an insight into a socio-political hot topic, Chasing Coral is a landmark in documentary films with a purpose. Hopefully it inspires people to take action, but in the very least, it demonstrates a social responsibilty we have to our seas that many might not be aware of. As increbible as the ‘Chasing’ films are – it would be a disservice to our planet to have to make another one.

Chasing Coral screened as part of the Sundance London schedule 1st – 4th June. It will be in cinemas 14th July 2017.


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Deputy Editor of the Edge and FilmSoc President 2016-17. BA Film and English graduate, but not ready to accept it yet. Has an affinity for spooky stories, cats, and anything deep fried.

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