Miami Film Festival 2019: ‘Chasing the Thunder’ Slows Down a Hundred Day Chase For Illegal Fisherman

Miami Film Festival 2019 Fighting for the natural world has become a rallying cry for a rising generation. Today, young activists may cite environmentalism as one of their guiding principles in life. Fighting for the planet has become an ethos. At the beginning of 2018, “Catching Thunder” by Eskil Engdal and Kjetil Saeter wrote a book about two ships chasing The Thunder, a notorious ship known for its illegal fishing practices. After more than one hundred days, the chase came to a close with a wild conclusion. Now, documentarians Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin show the footage of the chase through Antartica in “Chasing the Thunder.”

“Chasing the Thunder” begins on board the Sea Shepherd vessel the Bob Barker. Captain Peter Hammarshedt has been away from his family for more than a decade, hunting illegal poachers on the high seas. Meanwhile, a second Sea Shepherd craft, the Sam Simon, captained by Siddharth Chakravarty floats just days away. When the Bob Barker begins pursuing the Thunder, the three ships begin a cat and mouse game that last for more than three months.

Some may scoff at Sea Shepherd’s involvement in the documentary given their very public forays into TV. However, this documentary does the best it can to keep to this specific instance with the players involved. Both Hammarshedt and Chakravarty appear charismatic and idealistic. They are not in this for the attention, and their emotion seems authentic from start to finish. The twists and turns of the story draw you in, but their steadiness at the wheel gives “Chasing the Thunder” a clear and defined mission to follow.

A combination of great footage and editing helps amp up the stakes. The view of these vessels from a dingy or rescue boat becomes far more impressive on camera. The waves are crashing and the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere are unforgiving. The flashy editing ratchets up the tension. It also knows when to turn up the energy, and when to ease back. Structurally, this doc does a great job of getting you into the high-stakes action. The cinematography also showcases some death-defying feats from various crewmembers as well.

Perhaps the biggest issues in the documentary were not entirely in the filmmaker’s hands. Interviews with some of the Indonesian or Spanish speaking crewmembers of the Thunder would have been an interesting touch. It might have been a great way to round out footage. Hearing that side could not have hurt, and with time, might have helped us understand the intricacies of the conflict. To the director’s credit, “Chasing the Thunder” does contain footage absolving some of The Thunder‘s crew. In at least one instance, the crew of the Bob Barker voices their suspicion that the crew did not know they were fishing illegally. However, how interesting might it have been to hear that point-of-view in the film?

Other elements could certainly have been dropped. For example, the last five minutes or so do not feel like they are from this movie. They very distinctly come to tease a series, rather than let this story stand on its own merits. The use of voice-over, from an omnipotent narrator no less, does not fit the tone of the film. This could easily have been pulled and “Chasing the Thunder” would be better for it.

“Chasing the Thunder” may not appeal to the people who don’t see anti-poaching as a good thing, but to everyone else, this will be a fun, important thriller. Cutting back a little bit would not have hurt in the end, but the footage available is rather enjoyable to watch. Settling into this specific story and eschewing the superfluous context of the situation helps drive home the emotional intensity. This makes “Chasing the Thunder” an exciting ride from start to nearly finish.

What do you think of “Chasing the Thunder?” Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

GRADE: (★★★)

The Miami Film Festival runs from March 1, 2019, to March 10, 2019.