Chasing the Thunder continues Electric Bento’s ongoing series of environmentally conscious documentaries. Chasing the Thunder features the 2014 seafaring chase in search of illegal fishing in Antarctica and the team behind that chase. Chasing the Thunder screened at the Newport Beach Film Festival on May 2, 2019.
As Chasing the Thunder opens, images of clean, serene waters teeming with sea life beckon us. When the images transition, dramatic music unfolds and we’re reminded of the delicate balance that nature carries with the land above; that our inaction from the surface will destroy the balance, wreaking havoc on our precious Earth.
The opening frames are not meant to scare us into submission, but rather to understand the place from which documentarians Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin are coming from: the efforts to conserve our environment don’t just stop with the trees or the atmosphere. The sea is just as important as the rest of our environment and that illegal fishing is taking sea life out of the ecosystem, threatening to destroy that balance.
Governments around the world have enacted laws prohibiting illegal fishing, and those that benefit from the fishing have spent time hiding their efforts. Because governments and local law enforcement are woefully underfunded to uphold the law, outfits like the anti-Whaling group Sea Shepherd work with Interpol to find these bandits and put a crimp in their operations.
In December, 2014, the crew of the Motor Vessel (M/V) Bob Barker (yes, I chuckled throughout the documentary every time the name came up) happened upon the Thunder in the icy Antarctic waters. Under the command of Captain Peter Hammarstedt, the Bob Barker gives chase to the Thunder.
Benjamin and Levin effectively create a tension that rivals the most action-packed of cinematic stories. There’s never a wasted frame or edit as we shift between the Bob Barker, Alastair McDonnell, an official with the Interpol offices in France and the M/V San Simon captained by Sid Chakravarty, another vessel under the Sea Shepherd charter.
Despite the danger to all of the lives involved, the speed and ease at which the M/V Bob Barker catches the Thunder and starts giving chase becomes a talking point in Chasing the Thunder. The governments of Australia and New Zealand could very easily have taken action. When they don’t it is left to Sea Shepherd and its crews to take action.
The nuanced approach to telling this story reminds us that because they operate on open, international waters, collecting evidence is every bit as important as capturing the ship or forcing its surrender. As the M/V Bob Barker continues to chase the Thunder, the M/V San Simon comes in from behind to capture the evidence, in this case buoys and nets used to capture the Patagonian toothfish.
Chasing the Thunder‘s tone shifts between the three vantage points offering a story of global cooperation to put a stop to the threat to the seas. The cooperation is just the first aspect of this story. None of it could have happened without the dedication of each of the crews of the Bob Barker and the San Simon.
Benjamin and Levin make it a key point to discuss the chain of evidence and the method by which they find and ultimately collect the evidence. While the Bob Barker gives chase, the San Simon encounters a threat to collecting the evidence. With a methodical search pattern, they are able to resume the evidence collection. This kind of dramatic storytelling makes “Chasing the Thunder” such a riveting, life-altering experience at the cinema.
Krystal Keynes, the second mate on the San Simon points out the virtues of “walking the talk,” as she explains how she transitioned from making statements on social media and signing petitions, to being an actual part of the adventure on the high seas. Her story is reinforced through the dangers she and the rest of the crew face to capture the evidence and put themselves in harm’s way in the effort to preserve the environment.
Once Chasing the Thunder steps through the evidence collection, Benjamin and Levin return us to the chase between the M/V Bob Barker and the Thunder. That chase covered 110 days and some 16,000 kilometers (9941 miles/8639 nm) over three oceans.
The daily crew briefings offered by Captain Hammarstedt carry Chasing the Thunder‘s story through to its conclusion. The selected footage captures the essence of the not only the danger, but the documentary’s adventurous spirit through the looks on the crew’s faces as their situations change.
Eventually, the Thunder begins to wear down, making it easy for the M/V Bob Barker to keep up with them. In spectacular fashion, the Thunder’s captain decides to make one, last desperate act to evade the M/V Bob Barker. Much like Captain Philips, Captain Hammarstedt treats the situation with doubt, protecting his crew first.
I couldn’t help but reflect on Star Trek as Chasing the Thunder unfolded with it mutual cooperation, the preservation of life and the systematic shut down to illegal activities and the spectacular nature with which the story ends, that I have the utmost respect for those who choose to undertake this adventure
I am not necessarily inclined to push head first into this type of adventure in real life, but Chasing the Thunder puts the audience right in the middle of this adventure and compels us to do what we can to help preserve the balance of life on this planet, if not for ourselves then for our future selves.
Chasing the Thunder has not been rated by the MPAA.