American tourist Lauren Urey’s heartrending recollections of the day she nearly lost her husband – and her life – while on her honeymoon in our backyard form the emotional heart of a new Netflix documentary on the 2019 White Island/Whakaari parekura (tragedy).
But while it’s the tear-filled testimony of Urey, her husband Matt, young Australian tourist Jesse Langford, tour guide Kelsey Waghorn and Hamiltonian Geoff Hopkins that will give viewers of The Volcano: Rescue From Whakaari “the feels” once it debuts on the global streaming service on December 16, it’s the sensitive and sobering nature of experienced documentarian Rory Kennedy’s (Downfall: The Case Against Boeing, Last Days in Vietnam) storytelling that stays with you.
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Rory Kennedy turns the camera on the devastating December 2019 volcanic eruption off the coast of New Zealand for Netflix’s latest documentary, “The Volcano: Rescue from Whakaari.”
Kennedy directs and produces the film, which screened at AFI and DOC NYC ahead of the three-year anniversary of the tragic natural disaster that claimed 22 lives. Kennedy tracks the minute-by-minute unfolding of the eruption. The official synopsis reads: During a routine sightseeing day-trip to a remote volcanic island, 47 tourists and guides were trapped in the epicenter of a boiling pyroclastic surge of toxic dust and ash. Both terrifying and inspiring, the film uses first-hand accounts to convey the experience of living through such a lethal eruption.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Ron Howard both serve as executive producers, along with Brian Grazer, Jennifer Davisson, and Phillip Watson. Mark Bailey, Dallas Brennan Rexer, Sara Bernstein, and Justin Wilkes also produce. Bailey and Rexer are co-writers.
Cinematographers Dominic Fryer, Mike Jonathan, Mark Lapwood, and Murray Milne acted as the directors of photography on the feature documentary that features the survivors of the 2019 Whakaari eruption. Jawad Metni edited the documentary over the course of nine months.
“From the beginning, ‘The Volcano’ struck me largely as an event: a harrowing, lethal event, an eruption that happened at a specific time on a specific day and set into motion a specific narrative,” director Kennedy told Filmmaker Magazine. “So, from the start, my impulse was to try to render that event with the belief that the characters involved would emerge and define themselves through their relationship to it, through their choices and actions in the face of that eruption. Similarly, my hope was that whatever meaning one might extract from that day, it too would come out of absorbing what had happened and spending time with the people involved.”
Kennedy added, “Given the proliferation of cellphones and video cameras, as well as the fact that this was indeed a tourist activity, I believed there had to be footage that would enable me to stay close to the ground, minute-by-minute, and that by structuring the film that way, the sum total of those minutes would add up to something larger.”
Check out the trailer below.