When Pomona graduate Zack Rago joined the documentary crew of “Chasing Coral” he had no idea the impact it would have. “It was an incredibly cool opportunity for me being a young graduate and …
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WHAT: Screening of “Chasing Coral” — a documentary about a team of divers, photographers and scientists that set out on an ocean adventure to discover why coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate.
WHEN: Oct. 26; doors at 6 p.m. with a 7 p.m. screen time. Q&A with Zack Rago to follow
WHERE: Pomona High School theater, 8101 W. Pomona Drive, Arvada
COST: Free; a donation is suggested for the Pomona Arts and Humanities program
When Pomona graduate Zack Rago joined the documentary crew of “Chasing Coral” he had no idea the impact it would have.
“It was an incredibly cool opportunity for me being a young graduate and being thrown into a world that I’m kind of passionate about,” said Rago, 26. “I’ve really enjoyed corals my whole life so to be able to shed light onto the current state of them to a world that sees the ocean as `out of site — out of mind,’ was a gift to me.”
Rago said the film and his participation in it has flipped his world upside down and led to a lot of engagement with youth and high schools.
“Chasing Coral” tells the story of coral reefs, the nursery for all life in the oceans. Yet with carbon emissions warming the seas, a phenomenon called coral bleaching — a sign of mass coral death — has been accelerating around the world. Enter Jeff Orlowski, director of Chasing Ice, which created irrefutable, visual proof of the melting ice caps. “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 technical malfunctions and the force of nature in pursuit of their golden fleece: documenting the indisputable and tragic transformation below the waves.
Rago fell in love with coral reefs and the ocean as a child, accompanying his father, a long-time science teacher in Jeffco, on trips to the big island of Hawaii.
“I was always the nerdy kid who liked going out in the Rocky Mountains and catch snakes and frogs,” Rago recounted. “I think once I had the ocean opened up to me through my dad and Hawaii, that was what hooked me.”
Rago continued foster his love of the ocean by becoming scuba certified, working at an Arvada aquarium shop, Elite Reef, while in high school. While pursuing a degree in evolutionary biology and ecology at CU Boulder, Rago got an internship with View Into The Blue, a Boulder-based technology innovator that provides subsea video and data capturing systems.
That’s when he got picked up for the “Chasing Coral” crew at age 20.
The film, directed by Orlowski and produced by Larissa Rhodes, as an Exposure Labs production, was filmed over three years, with 500+ hours underwater and includes footage from over 30 countries. It premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and won the Sundance Audience Award and was released globally on Netflix as a Netflix Original Documentary in July 2017.
“It’s easy to make a film like this, sell it to Netflix and then walk away with cash in your pocket,” Rago said. “But for Jeff and Larissa, there is always this notion of an impact camping.”
Now, Rago works full time on that campaign bringing education on the dying reefs to communities all of the world. The goal is to inspire audiences with the film’s message, spark conversation and drive people to take meaningful action locally.
That’s why Rago is returning to Pomona High for a screening of the film.
“It’s been on my radar for a while,” Rago said of bringing a screening to Arvada. “It’s cool to share back with your own community. At the end of the day, when we talk about climate change as a whole, the most important thing we can do is think and act locally and have the most impact where we are.”
The screening is being hosted by the Pomona Arts and Humanities program, which integrates arts into all core classes.
“I think the message that `Chasing Coral’ has is so powerful,” said Jesse Collett, theater teacher and director at Pomona High. “It’s such a beautiful way of talking about the impacts that us as humans have on our planet. And the documentary is just so well done.”
The other reason Collett wanted to show the film at Pomona was to celebrate Rago, a 2011 graduate.
“Part of inspiring our students is to show them what people that were once in their shoes are doing,” Collett said. “One of the reason we really want to bring Zack here is because he grew up here in Colorado. It’s seeing the impact that he is now having with the perspective that we’re in a landlocked state. He can still have such a beautiful impact by doing research and going out and making a difference.”
Collett said the screening is a way of broadening student horizons to think outside of their immediate community.
“I think that there is a group of students that have a larger lens and they can see the importance of things even though it’s not in out backyard,” Collett said. “But I think we also have students that don’t see any of it.”
The screening, which will be held Oct. 26 with a Q&A with Rago to follow is open to everyone, with the theater maxing out at 500 seats.
“We want to get as many people here as we possibly can,” Collett said. “We want to spread this cool educational experience. We want this to be an Arvada thing, not just Pomona.”
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