Directed by Eric Bendick
REVIEW BY NANCY DELUCIA
Chasing Ghosts is not, as its title might suggest, a paranormal ghost adventure. It is a documentary that tells a preternatural story capturing the majesty of Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a wetlands crowned by towering cypress trees, overflowing with wildlife and holding on tight to a century’s old mystery. The film follows three determined, they call themselves obsessed, researchers who spent three summers trying to solve the mystery. Carlton, the ecologist, Peter, the biologist, and Mac, the photographer, teamed up to set camera traps throughout the swamp in hopes of capturing just one photo of the mysterious insect that pollinates ghost orchids.
The ghost orchid is rare, found only in South Florida and Cuba and the Corkscrew Swamp ghost orchids are known as super ghosts. They’ve used the old-growth cypress forest to grow to super-status. Their unassuming, leafless vines intertwine as they climb the trunks of the trees, blooming in the summer, providing up to sixteen delicate flowers at a time. The bright white, fragile, blooms open, unfurling ghost-like petals meant to attract pollinators. Ghost orchids’ nectar tubes are unusually long and for more than a century scientists have speculated about which species of moth has just-the-right-size proboscis to pollinate them. The prime suspect has long been the giant sphinx moth, but ghost orchids are rare, blooming ghost orchids rarer, so catching the two together “in the act” has eluded and frustrated many a botanist, orchid devotee, and wildlife photographer.
The filmmakers follow the team as they paddle and wade through deep, flowing, alligator-infested waters and scale fifty-foot Cypress trees to set up multiple cameras that they hope will capture just one photo of the pollinator. We watch them work, hear their passionate descriptions of what motivates their search and come to understand their fervor for solving the mystery. As we climb, wade, and paddle with the team we’re introduced to the beauty of remote areas of the vast Corkscrew Swamp. The scale is unexpected, the Cypress trees creating a cathedral canopy that feels more like an exotic Amazon setting than the Florida wetlands.
After dozens of trips and almost 7,000 camera hours, Carlton, Peter, and Mac catch their “ghost.” They capture the first photos of the ghost orchid pollinator. No spoilers here, suffice it to say their findings are a surprise, a big surprise for a scientific community that has spent years wondering.
Chasing Ghosts take us on the journey of three possessed researchers, capturing the resolve of these men who willingly sleep in a swamp for days at a time, enduring bugs, snakes, alligators, muck, heat, and discomfort as they search for one moth, one photo. Along the way, we learn that the Corkscrew Swamp is endangered, unwelcoming, and otherworldly, and we understand why so many are drawn to the fragile and majestic ghost orchid. It is a great chase.