SEA OF SHADOWS

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by Richard Ladkani

grade: 7

In Sea of Shadows – directed by Richard Ladkani and produced by Leonardo Di Caprio – alongside moments of suspense, images of evocative seabed are, from time to time, delighting the spectator’s eyes. And what we see on the screen is a real natural paradise, which French explorer and director Jacques Cousteau once called ‘the aquarium of the world’.

Save the little Vaquita

This is not the first time that Austrian director Richard Ladkani has shed light on a controversial topic that concerns us all. And if, in fact, already in 2016 – following the release of the documentary The Ivory Game – China banned the ivory trade, one would expect some necessary measures also after the release of Sea of Shadows (2019), which premiered in Italy on the occasion of the festival Sotto le Stelle dell’Austria 2020.

This documentary – produced, among others, by Leonardo Di Caprio, who has always been attentive to issues concerning the protection of the environment in which we live – shows us a reality concerning the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. Here, due to particular nets, the fishing of the precious and potentially ‘curative’ – given the great presence of collagen contained in its gills – totoaba (often by local criminals), is endangering the species of vaquita whales, the smallest whales in the world, of which today, unfortunately, there are only between fifteen and thirty specimens left, and which, therefore, risk imminent extinction.

But, in fact, what is behind such a reality? In order to shed light on the facts, a team of activists, journalists, scientists and public personalities – in addition, of course, to a number of witnesses who preferred to remain anonymous – began to investigate. And quite a lot of unexpected things came to light.

From the outset, Sea of Shadows takes on the character of a highly exciting thriller. And Richard Ladkani, for his part, lets himself be fascinated by a mise-en-scene that closely resembles Hollywood blockbusters, complete with heart-pounding moments and a practically omnipresent music. So omnipresent as to be excessive? At times, yes. Yet this remains perfectly in line with the entire mise-en-scene and Ladkani’s particular directorial approach.

Alongside the suspenseful moments, however, images of impressive seabeds (by Richard Ladkani himself) are, from time to time, delighting the spectator’s eyes. And what we see on the screen is a real natural paradise, which French explorer and director Jacques Cousteau once called ‘the world’s aquarium’.

An approach, this one, which, however, differs strongly from what is produced in the documentary field by most Austrian directors, but which, at the same time, proves to be effective in terms of what it wants to communicate to the audience. The world’s smallest whale is on the verge of extinction. And, once again, the responsibility for the facts belongs to the human being. What must be done, then, is to avoid sitting on our hands and closing our eyes. And this is precisely what Sea of Shadows aims to do: to incite the audience to reflect and – as far as possible – to act. And the message, in fact, comes through loud and clear.

Original title: Sea of Shadows
Directed by: Richard Ladkani
Country/year: Austria, Australia, Germany, USA / 2019
Running time: 104’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Richard Ladkani
Cinematography: Richard Ladkani
Produced by: Terra Mater Factual Studios, Appian Way, Malaika Pictures

Info: the page of Sea of Shadows on iMDb; the page of Sea of Shadows on the website of the National Geographic; the page of Sea of Shadows on the website of the Austrian Film Commission; the page of Sea of Shadows on the website of the Forum Austriaco di Cultura Roma