The Rescue, an extraordinary 2021 film from Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi–the power couple behind Free Solo–tells the story of 14 teenagers who got stranded deep inside a flooded cave in Thailand and their improbable, high-risk extraction. One of the film’s most compelling scenes occurs early, when the girlfriend of a rescue diver is describing their courtship–the attraction, the dates, the sweet notes. The interviewer asks: “Did you fall in love?” After a pause and a sheepish grin, she nods vigorously and says, “Yes!” It’s a small moment of warmth and vulnerability in a thriller that otherwise unfolds at breakneck pace, and it connects us to the characters in a way that even their heroic actions do not.
The Rescue is just one of many impressive adventure documentaries that have created considerable buzz in recent years. Of course, everyone has seen Free Solo, but The Alpinist and 14 Peaks also made a splash. And how about HBO’s 100 Foot Wave–a series following Garrett McNamara’s attempt to ride a monster swell that made me shout at my TV in amazement? Or The River Runner, about the rise and fall and rise of Scott Lindgren, one of the world’s greatest whitewater kayakers? The list goes on: The Dawn Wall, Torn, Meru, Sunshine Superman, Icarus, Into the Canyon, Minding the Gap, The Barkley Marathons, and McConkey, to mention just a few. These came from filmmakers who had to work very hard to bring their projects to life.
As a writer who has spent several decades refining my own craft, I can appreciate how challenging it is to get such stories right. And as a