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"The Cave" - Interview with Tom Waller, director

by Emilia Ippolito

Within the large Documentary Film section at the 63rd edition of the BFI Film Festival in London this year one in particular caught our attention: The Cave, directed by Tom Weller.

The Cave tells the story of the 2018 unexpected rescue of the Wild Boars Thai football team from the Tham Luang Cave. The junior group, who volunteered to descend into those depths, was trapped in the cave with their coach for 18 days during the Monsoon season. An international team planned and successfully executed their rescue. An essential role was played by the Irish speleologist Jim Varny, who plays himself in the film.

In an interview during the Festival, Waller told us about the genesis of this testimonial of a tragic occurrence which shocked the world.

EI: Why did you choose to portray this incident in particular?
TW: For different reasons : my mother is from Thailand, so I’m familiar with country and culture and hold a Thai passport. I was particularly shocked by the accident; my children at the time were the same age as the trapped ones, and the thought of it horrified me

EI: I can imagine it’s not easy to make a decision on what to focus on. How did you plan and execute your project ? I wouldn’t expect you to have a script
TW: That’s correct; the team actually volunteered to descend into the cave and train there. So I chose children from the street - no actors and no script, and a lot of impro and extras to keep the background moving.

EI: How did you choose the location ? Did it have to be real ?
TW: Yes absolutely. That’s what I focused on: I want the audience to feel trapped in there and try to understand how horrific it was
Of course, it had to be a safe environment: in particular since I was working with children. So I chose Thailand as a location and found an abandoned pool that we could use. All the shooting was done there.

EI: That sounds great, however that’s only partly real. How did you manage to tell the story to the audience ?
TW: At some point I realised that it would be necessary to film on the real location : at least some sequences. The government obviously refused permission to use the actual location. Only thanks to my passport was I allowed to
shoot in the Tham Luang Cave for one day. It didn’t help that they had me wait for four months before making a decision ....

EI: You actually managed to beat different Hollywood projects and scripts on this story : how did you succeed?
TW: Again, I’m very grateful for my Thai nationality. That aside, I’m an independent film maker, so I could proceed more quickly

EI: Were any of the actual children shown the film?
TW: No, parents don’t want them to see it : fair enough. Also, I thought they may have a different vision or version of the accident

EI: What’s your next project ? Maybe a feature ?
TW: I don’t know yet. I have a few ideas, but I don’t think it will be a feature. I’m fascinated by controversial reality rather than fiction

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