Entertainment » Movies

Sea of Shadows

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jul 12, 2019
'Sea of Shadows'
'Sea of Shadows'  

National Geographic Documentary Films' mission to investigate issues about our environmentally damaged planet and its imperiled inhabitants can also dangerously heroic filmmaking. "Sea of Shadows" is documentary filmmaker Richard Ladkani's real-life crime thriller in the fight to save the vaquita porpoise from extinction.The vaquita is part of the collateral damage of an illegal Chinese-Mexican crime syndicate operating on in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, waters that Jacques Cousteau called "the aquarium of the world," where dozens of poachers drop massive nets into the ocean to catch the "cocaine of the sea," a.k.a. the totoboa fish, to harvest its bladder to market as a miracle drug in China worth hundreds of thousands of dollars per unit.

Mexican investigative journalist Andrea Crosta had been reporting on the drug cartel and turned into his personal crusade to expose the cartel and save the vaquita and all marine life in these waters And indeed the footage of his undercover work tracking down informants on the inside of the cartel looks like an FBI drug bust sting.

The film starts with a high-speed oceanic chase by the Mexican Navy in the middle of the night to try to capture some poachers in action pulling up the nets with their haul under the cover of darkness. National Geographic follows the activist fight of marine scientists, law enforcement and journalists who put themselves on the front line of a to expose their environmental war crimes.

The dangerous and complex rescue of the Vaquita is headed by Marine Biologist Dr. Cynthia Smith, Executive Director of the National Marine Mammal Foundation and her team are out to save what they the less than 30 vaquita porpoise who have so far survived by harboring them in an oceanic research lab, to study them and transport them out of harm's way until the waters are once again safe. The skyward and underwater cinematography capturing footage of the rare surviving porpoises ,free for the moment truly breathtaking. It's also very disturbing, as this species is very close to total extinction. What's more, they are very smart animals, able to elude Dr. Smith's less threatening methods of corralling them for their own safety.

Meanwhile, a team of marine environmental activists also are out on their rescue ship the Sea Shepard, dragging the waters with hooks to methodically bring up the nets on the deck of Sea Shepard that often results in standoffs with armed poachers.They try to rescue ensnared sea creatures ensnared in the nets and release them to safe waters. The poachers operate at night, so the Sea Shepard crew use drones to track them, chase them down, but sometimes facing armed resistance from the poachers, to the point where the Mexican Navy has to give them military backup.

The cartel has convinced some of the locals this is the only way they can earn a living is to work for them, and a number of fishing communities are caught in the middle.Some want the poachers driven away, realizing what it is doing to the marine ecology; others need whatever work they can get to feed their families. When journalists confront a top Navy official as to why the authorities haven't stopped the multi-million dollar illegal operation, the officer admits on camera that people in high places are looking the other way.

Ladkani is both cinematographer and director and this film is investigative documentary journalism at its best. Ladkani not only brings awareness against an endangered species but the necessary fearless battles it will take to save marine life. As always with National Geographic films, it is visually stunning, it is a story that addresses a myriad of vital issues about the environment and our responsibility to prevent environmental genocide. "Sea of Shadows" is a stunning cinematic achievement, that has picked up numerous festival awards including the 2019 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award is without doubt one of the best documentary films of the year.

Sea of Shadows

The world's smallest whales near extinction as Mexican cartels and the Chinese mafia destroy their habitat.


Runtime :: 104 mins
Release Date :: Sep 27, 2019
Language :: Silent
Country :: Austria


Director :: Richard Ladkani
Director :: Sean Bogle
Director :: Matthew Podolsky
Executive Producer :: Scott Burns
Executive Producer :: Rebecca Cammisa
Executive Producer :: Dinah Czezik-Müller
Executive Producer :: Jennifer Davisson
Executive Producer :: Leonardo DiCaprio
Executive Producer :: Michael Frenschkowski
Producer :: Wolfgang Knöpfler
Producer :: Walter Kohler
Music :: H. Salinas
Cinematographer :: Richard Ladkani
Film Editor :: Verena Schönauer
Film Editor :: Georg Fischer

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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