2017 Sundance Docs in Focus: CHASING CORAL

chasing coralCHASING CORAL
Jeff Orlowski races to capture the climate change-driven destruction of the planet’s lifegiving coral reefs.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Special Program:
The New Climate

Sundance Program Description:

Coral reefs are the nursery for all life in the oceans, a remarkable ecosystem that sustains us. Yet with carbon emissions warming the seas, a phenomenon called “coral bleaching” – a sign of mass coral death – has been accelerating around the world, and the public has no idea of the scale or implication of the catastrophe silently raging underwater.

Enter Jeff Orlowski, director of CHASING ICE, which created irrefutable, visual proof of the melting ice caps. Orlowski’s next project is similarly evidentiary and powerful. CHASING CORAL taps into the collective will and wisdom of an ad man, a self-proclaimed coral nerd, top-notch camera designers, and renowned marine biologists as they invent the first time-lapse camera to record bleaching events as they happen. Unfortunately, the effort is anything but simple, and the team doggedly battles malfunctions technical and natural in pursuit of their golden fleece: documenting the indisputable and tragic transformation below the waves. With its breathtaking photography, nail biting suspense, and startling emotion, CHASING CORAL is a dramatic revelation that won’t have audiences sitting idle for long.

Some Background:

  • Jeff Orlowski
    Past Sundance docs:

    CHASING ICE (2012, cinematography award winner)

    This is Orlowski’s second documentary feature, which received support from the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program in 2015. In addition to its Sundance win, CHASING ICE was shortlisted for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar, nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar, and won a News and Documentary Emmy. He is the founder and director of Exposure Labs, which focuses on socially relevant projects.


  • Larissa Rhodes
    Rhodes previously served as production coordinator on CHASING ICE, and serves as the director of creative development at Exposure Labs.

Associate Producers:

  • Jill Ahrens and Ryan Ahrens
    The Ahrens are the principals and co-founders of Argent Pictures. They executive produced Sundance US Dramatic Grand Jury and Audience Award winner THE BIRTH OF A NATION last year. Both have a background in real estate and law.

  • Donna Gruneich and Kevin Gruneich
    Past Sundance docs:

    THE BAD KIDS (2016, executive producers)
    THE HUNTING GROUND (2015, executive producers)
    CARTEL LAND (2015, executive producers)
    NO IMPACT MAN (2009, executive producers)
    SECRECY (2008, executive producers)

    The Gruneichs are Park City residents, philanthropists, and investors with a long history with Impact Partners and Gamechanger Films. Donna Gruneich served on the Sundance Institute’s Utah Advisory Board between 2011-2015 and was its chair in 2015.

  • Jeff Seibert and Wayne Chang
    Seibert is senior product director at Google. The entrepreneur and investor previously supported CHASING ICE. Siebert and fellow serial entrepreneur Chang, who created the Twiiter-acquired Crashlytics together, associate produced FRAME BY FRAME.

  • Lynda Weinman and Bruce Heavin
    Weinman and Heavin are the founders of the LinkedIn-acquired online software training website Lynda.com. She previously worked in animation and special effects for Hollywood studio films and taught digital media and graphics. Weinman is also an executive producer of fellow 2017 US Documentary Competition title UNREST.

  • Shari Sant Plummer and Daniel Plummer
    The Plummers’ Code Blue Foundation supports projects which draw attention to ocean and watershed ecosystems. In addition to supporting the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program, they previously executive produced MISSION BLUE.

  • Shannon O’Leary Joy and Bill Joy
    Shannon O’Leary Joy serves as the director of The Joy Foundation, which focuses on the protection of marine ecosystems and their biodiversity, and also executive produced MISSION BLUE. Venture capitalist Bill Joy was a co-founder of Sun Microsystems.

  • Greg Brockman
    Past Sundance docs:

    THE SEND-OFF (short) (2016)

    Brockman is a co-founder of OpenAI.

  • Andrea van Beuren
    Past Sundance docs:

    ALIVE INSIDE (2014, Audience Award winner)

    van Beuren produces through her Sustainable Films shingle. She is also a founder and artistic director of newportFILM.

  • Nion McEvoy
    McEvoy is the chairman and CEO of publishing giant the McEvoy Group. His philanthropic work encompasses the world of art, film, photography, and music, including the Smithsonian, SFMoMA, and SFJAZZ. McEvoy is also a co-producer of fellow 2017 Sundance US Documentary Competition title UNREST.


  • Stacey Piculell
    Among Piculell’s previous credits is FRAME BY FRAME, for which she was associate producer.

Executive Producers:

  • David J Cornfield and Linda A Cornfield
    The Cornfields are philanthropists and environmentalists who have previously served as executive producers on CHASING ICE.


  • Davis Coombe
    Past Sundance docs:

    BEING EVEL (2015, editor/co-producer)
    CHASING ICE (2012)

    Coombe is also the editor of fellow 2017 US Documentary Competition title CASTING JONBENET. He previously produced and edited the Academy Award-winning short SAVING FACE, the Academy Award-nominated short THE LAST CAMPAIGN OF GOVERNOR BOOTH GARDNER, and the Academy Award-shortlisted doc feature KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON.

Why You Should Watch:
As in his previous film, Orlowski’s imagery is striking, compelling, and sobering. Part of The New Climate, this year’s special environmentally-themed programming, the doc is poised to draw attention and serve as a call to action, aided by a companion VR piece in New Frontier that immerses the viewer in the coral’s ecosystem.

More Info:

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance 2017 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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