At one point, the boys were convinced that if they dug hard enough, they would end up at an orange orchard. This was one of the snippets that the world is hearing for the first time in The Trapped 13: How We Survived the Thai Cave, a documentary that features exclusive interviews with the survivors who were rescued from a cave in Thailand after 17 days.
Ahead of the film’s debut on October 5, director Pailin Wedel talks about why she embarked on the documentary and what inspired her.
What were you doing when the story of the trapped boys made the news?
I was about to get married when the news broke! As a journalist, my phone was just going off with messages from people asking me to cover the news, which I couldn’t at that time. When they were found, I actually cried. I couldn’t just believe they were still alive! This documentary really focuses on the same questions I had then: How did they survive and what was going through their minds?
How did you come on board this documentary project?
I was initially hired as a researcher for the Thai Cave Rescue series to interview the boys and their parents, as well as Coach Eak. But Netflix had the incredible foresight to ask me to see if there were documentary possibilities during that process. I wasn’t convinced at first: Did the boys and the coach do anything interesting as they waited to be rescued? What more was there to say with all the other films in production?
But when I spoke to them for the first time, it dawned on me that there weren’t that many people in the world who have heard their perspectives. News articles cover the facts but they aren’t able to go in-depth into the emotions, thoughts, and feelings of the boys.
The story that came out of these interviews was amazing. It was full of hope, setbacks, perseverance, and even humor. It was inspiring. That’s when I was hooked. A documentary wasn’t only possible but important. They had things to say that’s never been heard before.
What were some of your initial reservations?
We were very concerned about the boys’ mental well-being and did not want to produce the documentary if they exhibited signs of trauma. Before meeting the boys, I consulted with Netflix’s MIND team (which included mental health experts) on recognizing signs of trauma.
We started by having informal chats with all 12 boys and their parents. While they all did well during the initial chat, we only interviewed those who clearly showed us they wanted to tell their story and were enthusiastic to do so. We combined the interviews for the mini-series with the documentary interviews as much as we could to limit the amount of time they had to spend thinking about the topic.
So what do you think helped the boys to survive?
I was surprised by how big of a role Coach Eak played in keeping them together. I truly believe they survived because of the leadership Coach Eak and his right-hand person, Tee, exhibited.
They constantly had tactics to distract and periodically inject the other boys with hope.
At the same time, the boys themselves played a big part in their own survival. When we were filming the re-creations in the cave, full-grown adults on our crew were scared. But because these boys grew up with a lot of challenges, they were tougher than most. I’m not sure a group of city kids would survive stuck in the cave as long as they did.
The Wild Boars have a lot of grit and while they don’t seem to be traumatized from being trapped in the cave, they live with a lot of guilt for causing such a fuss. Many of them feel they have to be perfect to be deserving of the amount of effort put into saving them.
How has this story inspired you?
We live in a rather bleak world today. But this story reminds us that even when things are at its worst — most people did not even think the boys would be alive — there is always a small hope of survival.
Catch ‘The Trapped 13: How We Survived The Thai Cave’ exclusively on Netflix from October 5th.