Sea of Shadows
A looming disaster in one of the most spectacular environments on Earth sparks a rescue mission unlike any other in SEA OF SHADOWS, a riveting new documentary with the intensity of a Hollywood thriller from National Geographic Documentary Films and winner of the Sundance audience award. When Mexican drug cartels and Chinese traffickers join forces to poach the rare totoaba fish in the Sea of Cortez, their deadly methods threaten to destroy virtually all marine life in the region, including the most elusive and endangered whale species on Earth, the vaquita porpoise. SEA OF SHADOWS follows a team of dedicated scientists, high-tech conservationists, investigative journalists and courageous undercover agents as well as the Mexican Navy as they put their lives on the line to save the last remaining vaquitas and bring the vicious international crime syndicate to justice.
Meet the Filmmakers
Richard LadkaniDIRECTOR, CINEMATOGRAPHER
Richard Ladkani has gained international recognition for his award-winning feature documentaries. His 2016 Netflix Original, “The Ivory Game,” executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, produced by Walter Köhler and co-directed by Kief Davidson, was shortlisted for an Academy Award. An investigative docu-thriller about the illegal ivory trade and the threat of elephant extinction, the movie premiered at the Telluride and Toronto International Film festivals and won multiple international awards. In early 2015 Ladkani and his wife, Anita, founded Malaika Pictures to produce films that shine a spotlight on the most pressing environmental and political issues facing the world today. They are currently developing a scripted feature film based on the bestselling book “City of Thorns,” chronicling the plight of refugees, in one of the largest UNHCR camps in the world, Dadaab, in Kenya. Among Ladkani’s most renowned films are “Escape Over the Himalayas,” “The Devil’s Miner,” “Jane’s Journey,” “Vatican: The Hidden World” and “Gas Monopoly.” His signature “you-are-there” approach to filmmaking gives audiences an immediate and visceral connection to his subjects. He lives near Vienna, Austria, with his wife and two daughters.
Walter KöhlerPRODUCER, FOUNDER & CEO OF TERRA MATER FACTUAL STUDIOS
Walter Köhler has had more than 30 successful years in the nonfiction and narrative film business. In the 1990s, he created the Natural History Unit of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation and made it one of the leading brands in factual television worldwide. He also helped nature to re-conquer the big screen with in involvement in the BBC features “Deep Blue” (2003) and “Earth”(2007). In 2011, Köhler launched his production company TERRA MATER Factual Studios, and since then, he has gained international recognition with more than 230 international film awards, including an Emmy award, several Panda Awards at Wildscreen, and Grand Teton Awards at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Köhler’s last industry coup was for his film “The Ivory Game,” which was shortlisted for an Academy Award. The thrilling feature documentary about the illegal ivory trade helped save the elephant population when the Chinese government banned ivory trade two months after its release. With SEA OF SHADOWS, Köhler continues to strengthen TERRA MATER Factual Studios’ vision by producing films that show a unique and fragile part of Mother Earth, and endeavor to bring about change.
Wolfgang Knöpfler is an experienced international producer specializing in documentary filmmaking. He has produced projects for major networks including National Geographic, Discovery and BBC, as well as blue-chip broadcasters in Germany, Austria, France and many other countries. Knöpfler’s credits also include Michael Haneke’s Cannes-nominated feature film “Funny Games,” and the popular TV drama series “Kommissar Rex.” After spending seven years in the U.K. and six years in Namibia, Knöpfler was offered a position at Austria’s newly founded TERRA MATER Factual Studios. With his background in natural history filmmaking, including WNET’s “Deep Jungle,” BBC’s expedition series “Beyond Boundaries,” Discovery Channel’s extreme nature series “Man vs. Wild” and feature documentaries “Automat Kalashnikov” and “Swimmers in the Desert,” Knöpfler was an ideal addition to the TERRA MATER team. Together with Walter Köhler and Kief Davidson, Knöpfler produced the Netflix original feature documentary “The Ivory Game,” which premiered simultaneously in 190 countries in 2016. Executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Ivory Game” was shortlisted for an Academy Award and won numerous international awards.
Meet the Cast
Andrea CrostaEXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND CO-FOUNDER OF EARTH LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL
Andrea Crosta is relentless in his mission to protect wildlife through undercover investigations around the world. His organization, Earth League International (formerly Elephant Action League), currently comprises 12 international teams on three continents. His team of undercover investigators is extremely efficient and includes many operatives from China — the country where most of the illegal products are being shipped — but also former FBI and CIA operatives who have dedicated their lives to saving our planet’s wildlife. His investigation of the syndicates behind the totoaba trade started back in 2016, and a preliminary report into the Chinese trade was released in the summer of 2017. The investigation depicted in SEA OF SHADOWS targets Chinese traders in Mexico, and because it also involves the drug cartels, it is one of the most dangerous he has ever conducted.
Carlos Loret de MolaINVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST AND TV HOST
Carlos Loret de Mola is one of the most famous celebrities in Mexico. Wherever he shows up, he is recognized and welcomed. But he is also known as a tough-as-nails investigative journalist who does not shy away from exposing corruption and sinister dealings. His most famous investigation helped expose high-level officials who were implicated in drug kingpin El Chapo’s escape from prison. When the vaquita became a national priority in 2015, Loret de Mola started covering the story and quickly discovered that major drug cartels were taking over the business, referring to totoabas as “cocaine of the sea.” It was on his daily TV show, which has more than 30 million viewers, that Loret de Mola exposed the dealings of traffickers such as Oscar Parra (whom the government has nicknamed the “El Chapo of Totoabas”) and government officials vowed to protect the vaquitas.
Dr. Cynthia SmithPROGRAM MANAGER, VAQUITA CPR
Dr. Cynthia Smith, DVM, is passionate about the conservation and protection of marine mammals around the world. She serves as the Program Manager of the VaquitaCPR conservation project, a bold attempt to rescue the endangered vaquita porpoise from extinction. Her background as a lead veterinarian for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill investigation made her a perfect fit to co-lead the VaquitaCPR team, working side-by-side with Dr. Lorenzo Rojas, Mexico’s leading vaquita scientist. Dr. Smith is also the Executive Director of the National Marine Mammal Foundation, a nonprofit based in San Diego, California, with a mission to improve and protect life for marine mammals. The team focuses on urgent issues related to conservation biology & medicine, human-made environmental change, and endangered species recovery. Dr. Smith remains hopeful that we still have enough time to save vaquitas, as long as swift action is taken to conserve the animals, the sea, and the coastal communities that rely on them.
Jack HuttonDRONE OPERATOR FOR SEA SHEPHERD
Jack Hutton joined Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro in the Sea of Cortez as first officer to help save the “aquarium of the world” and the vaquita porpoise from imminent extinction. His biggest idol is Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Just 21, Hutton brings a unique skill set to this operation: He is a master drone pilot. A key instrument in this mission, aerial reconnaissance enables Sea Shepherd to locate poachers and ghost nets, even at night. Whenever illegal activities are detected, Sea Shepherd moves in to chase off poachers and pull their nets from the ocean before any damage can be done. This has made Sea Shepherd many enemies in the upper Sea of Cortez, which is why it now operates under the protection of the Mexican Navy. Despite multiple armed attacks on Sea Shepherd vessels and the shooting down of their drone, Hutton remains eager to keep on fighting against the destruction of the vaquitas and the Sea of Cortez ecosystem.
Javier and Alan ValverdeFISHERMEN OF SAN FELIPE
Javier and Alan Valverde are local fishermen who would love to see the vaquita porpoise survive but struggle with the government ban on gillnet fishing, which prevents them from making a living, while illegal fishermen make huge profits. Javier’s family members are among the founders of San Felipe, making him a very respected person in the town. But because he stands with the government when it comes to the protection of vaquitas, he also has many enemies. His entire family, including his two sons and grandsons, are dedicated to the cause and help the government with the removal of illegal gillnets off the shores of San Felipe. After the Vaquita CPR mission was aborted, Javier and his grandson Alan vowed to do everything in their power to stop illegal fishing from flaring up in the area, but their hands are tied when it comes to the cartels. Should the cartels take control of the totoaba business, nobody — not even the government — can stop them.
"A suspenseful, wide-screen drama filled with gunfire, cartels and corruption."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
"A stirring adventure — inspiring and heartbreaking in equal measure."
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
"A chilling real-life criminal thriller set in a save-the-seas world."
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
"A heart-grabbing exposé."
"One of the most riveting and provoking films of the year."
SEA OF SHADOWS has brought together a powerful coalition of scientists, investigators, activists, politicians and nonprofits working together to save the vaquita and to help highlight the plight of endangered species across the globe.
The film aims to communicate the urgency of the crisis and harness public attention to inspire meaningful action. SEA OF SHADOWS shines a spotlight on the links between wildlife crime, global security and economic instability, mobilizing audiences to help advance policy and on-the-ground protections. The film has screened for the United Nations in New York City and for politicians on the floor of the Mexican Senate, is touring as part of the U.S. State Department’s American Film Showcase and was presented at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, by the secretary general of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
With your help we will continue to fight for key conservation victories, including enforcement of the gillnet ban in the Sea of Cortez by November 2019 and a return of the compensation program for local fishermen during the transition to economic alternatives.
How can you help?
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LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORGANIZATIONS FEATURED IN THE FILM
Use the links below to see firsthand what they are doing to make positive changes on our planet.
EARTH LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL
SEA SHEPARD CONSERVATION SOCIETY
DOWNLOAD A FREE DISCUSSION GUIDE
Use this custom-developed Discussion Guide to help your students or community group engage in meaningful dialog around the topics featured in the film. Additional resources support deeper learning, and help further the conversation beyond the classroom or screening room setting.
Directed by Richard Ladkani
Produced by Walter Köhler
Produced by Wolfgang Knöpfler
Director of Photography Richard Ladkani
Edited by Georg Fischer
Edited by Verena Schönauer
Composer H. Scott Salinas
Sound Design/Mix Michael Plöderl
Sound Design/Mix Bernhard Zorzi
Executive Producer Leonardo DiCaprio
Executive Producer Jennifer Davisson
Executive Producer Phillip Watson
Executive Producer Scott Z. Burns
Executive Producer Dinah Czezik-Müller
Executive Producer Michael Frenschkowski
Executive Producer Carolyn Bernstein
Executive Producer Ryan Harrington
Executive Producer Laura Nix
Executive Producer Rebecca Cammisa
Co-director & Associate Producer Matthew Podolsky
Co-director & Associate Producer Sean Bogle