TCA ’21: Nat Geo slates docs from “Free Solo” team, Dawn Porter and Trailblazer

Oscar-winning Free Solo filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin have partnered again with National Geographic on four new unscripted projects, the network revealed today (Feb. 9) as part of its Television ...
February 9, 2021

Oscar-winning Free Solo filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin have partnered again with National Geographic on four new unscripted projects, the network revealed today (Feb. 9) as part of its Television Critics Association winter press tour.

Nat Geo also announced a partnership with acclaimed filmmaker Dawn Porter (The Way I See It, John Lewis: Good Trouble) and Trailblazer Studios for a feature documentary on the Tulsa Massacre.

Vasarhelyi (pictured left) and Chin (right) will serve as directors for their slate of projects, comprising two feature films, a 10-part series and a one-hour pilot, all produced by their Little Monster Films banner.

Feature documentary Thai Cave Rescue (working title) will chronicle the dramatic 2018 rescue of the Wild Boars youth soccer team — a group of 12 boys and their assistant coach who, after finishing practice, decided to explore a nearby system of caves in the hilly region of Northern Thailand — only to become trapped for two weeks deep inside a flooding cave.

The film — billed as a full 360-degree view of the crisis –  is produced by John Battsek for Passion Pictures, Ventureland and Storyteller Productions’ P.J. van Sandwijk.

Also on the slate, Tompkins (w/t; produced by Anna Barnes and Bob Eisenhardt) is a portrait of conservationist and former Patagonia CEO Kristine Tompkins and the organization she and her partner Doug Tompkins founded together: Tompkins Conservation.

The 10-part series Into the Unknown (w/t), meanwhile, takes audiences inside the minds of elite adventure athletes as they recount stories of confronting fear, personal loss and nature. The series will weave interviews and self-shot archival footage from surfers, climbers, snowboarders, wingsuit jumpers, polar explorers and kayakers.

Finally, hour-long vérité pilot Photographer will feature conservation photographers and National Geographic’s 2018 Adventurers of the Year Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier as they embark on an ambitious four-year expedition aboard the SeaLegacy One on its maiden voyage to the Bahamas. Each subsequent episode is to be focused on a different National Geographic photographer.

For National Geographic Documentary Films, Carolyn Bernstein and Ryan Harrington are executive producers for Thai Cave Rescue (w/t) and Tompkins (w/t). For National Geographic Television, Chris Kugelman is EP for Into the Unknown (w/t) and Photographer (w/t).

For Little Monsters, Pagan Harleman and Anna Barnes are executive producers.

In addition to the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, National Geographic Documentary Films’ Free Solo took home seven Emmy awards in 2019.

In other TCA news, the Dawn Porter-directed Red Summer (w/t) mark the hundred year anniversary of the two-day Tulsa Massacre of 1921 that led to the murder of as many as 300 Black citizens and left as many as 10,000 homeless and displaced.

The film will premiere in June on National Geographic to commemorate Juneteenth, when the last Black slaves in the U.S. heard of their emancipation.

At the center of the film is Washington Post journalist and Tulsa native DeNeen Brown, reporting on the search for mass graves in her hometown.

With  access to family members of those killed, law enforcement, archaeologists, and historians, Brown makes sense of the science and the politics intertwined throughout the search for Tulsa’s mass grave.

Alongside Trailblazer Studios, the film is produced by Porter’s Trilogy Films. Porter also serves as producer with Brown as contributing reporter and Lauren Capps as story producer.

For Trailblazer Studios, Jeff Lanter and Ashleigh Di Tonto are executive producers. For National Geographic, Christine Weber is executive producer.

Photo courtesy National Geographic/Chris Figenshau

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.