Sundance 2019: Sea of Shadows

A still from Sea of Shadows by Richard Ladkani, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Richard Ladkani.

Sea of Shadows puts the spotlight on the mission to save the Vaquita while battling poachers over their bid to catch Votoaba for their swim bladders.

I don’t know how much of the American population is familiar with what’s happening below the border but it’s awful.  It’s been some time since I’ve watched an environmental documentary but wow, Sea of Shadows is truly horrifying.

“It’s a fucking disgrace that we are letting a species go extinct in Mexico,” Carlos Loret De Mola says.

The species that he speaks of is the vaquita porpoise.  This species is a native of the northern Gulf of California.  Unfortunately, less than 15 remain alive today.  This is in spite of the combined efforts being done by scientists,
conservationists, investigative journalists and undercover agents, and the Mexican Navy.  Sea Shepherd has been working to stave off the poachers but it’s not enough.  Even in viewing the film, one can’t help but think that the government is not doing enough.  It’s one of those situations where it feels like it’s too little, too late.

The ghost net retrieval compound outside San Felipe where hundreds of illegal nets are stored and later destroyed.
The ghost net retrieval compound outside San Felipe where hundreds of illegal nets are stored and later destroyed. Photo credit: Terra Mater Factual Studios/Richard Ladkani.

Drone pilot Jack Hutton is just one of many people leading the fight.  He’s involved in some thrilling boat chases as a result of his job.  If this were a narrative feature, I’d because excited.  But this is real life and there are people out there who think they have the right to poach these innocent creatures for money.

While this is happening on the sea, Elephant Action League co-founder Andrea Crosta helps lead the fight on land.  The EAL consists of former intelligence, law enforcement, and security professionals.  They have made it their mission is to protect both wildlife and our planet by exposing criminals.  Their investigation took some 14 months.

While all of this is going on, Televisa investigative journalist Carlos Loret De Mola does his own investigation.  Meanwhile, Dr. Cynthia Smith and Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho lead the Vaquita Conservation Protection and Rescue mission of resettling these near-extinct species.

What’s happening is that these Mexican fisherman are laying illegal nets for the sole purpose of catching the Totoaba in the Sea of Cortez.  The reason is that this fish–a croaker–can provide them a lot of money through the Chinese black market by way of the Mexican cartel.  You’re probably wondering how much?  Their swim bladder will net them at least $10,000!  It’s because of this that the fish are known as “the cocaine of the sea.”  While these illegal fishnets may catch this fish in particular, it will kill the aforementioned Vaquita.  A species that is on the verge of the extinction.  If reading this review is making you as angry as I was while watching the film, it’s safe to say that the film did its job!

Director Richard Ladkani provides a first-hand approach in letting us know why this story is so important.  Not surprisingly, this film re-teams Ladkani with The Ivory Game protagonist Andrea Crosta.  Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Scott Z. Burns are among the film’s executive producers.  Given that Netflix acquired The Ivory Game, I would not be surprised if they acquire this film and get it in front of as many eyes as possible.

Sea of Shadows may be among the most intense documentaries ever produced while reminding us that that we have the ability to make a difference for the environment.

DIRECTOR:  Richard Ladkani
FEATURING:  Andrea Crosta, Carlos Loret De Mola, Dr. Cynthia Smith, Jack Hutton, Javier Valverde, Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho

Sea of Shadows will hold its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

2 thoughts on “Sundance 2019: Sea of Shadows

Comments are closed.