Sundance: Leonardo DiCaprio-Produced Doc 'Sea of Shadows' Nabbed by Nat Geo for $3M

SEA OF SHADOWS Still 1 - Sundance Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The purchase is believed to be the biggest nonfiction acquisition from the 2019 edition of the festival.

National Geographic Documentary Films has netted Richard Ladkani's environmental documentary Sea of Shadows, plunking down $3 million for worldwide rights, which is believed to be the biggest doc acquisition of this year's Sundance market. Leonardo DiCaprio, who produced Ladkani's doc The Ivory Game, served as an executive producer.

The nonfiction thriller chronicles the plight of the vaquita, the world's smallest whale, which is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican drug cartels and the Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the "cocaine of the sea." Environmental activists, the Mexican navy and undercover investigators fight back against this illegal multimillion-dollar business.

The film made its world premiere at the festival on Jan. 27 at the Prospector Square Theatre. It went on to win the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary.

“What is happening in Mexico is yet another example of human-caused devastation due to the greed of a few,” said Ladkani. “My hope is that this film can raise awareness and help save this precious ecosystem. I could not ask for a better partner in that goal than National Geographic.”

The Austrian helmer entered the market as a hot commodity, given that his Ivory Game, which was released by Netflix, was short-listed for an Academy Award. Not surprisingly, Netflix also was in the mix for Sea of Shadows, along with Hulu.

Sea of Shadows was also executive produced by Jennifer Davisson, Phillip Watson, Dinah Czezik-Müller, Michael Frenschkowski, Rebecca Cammisa and Laura Nix. Walter Köhler and Wolfgang Knöpfler produced.

“I am absolutely thrilled that we found with National Geographic the perfect partner for Sea of Shadows. We have already collaborated several times in our branch of blue-chip nature docs and are now very delighted to bundle our energy and experience on this special feature film project,” said Köhler of Terra Mater Factual Studios, which produced the film alongside DiCaprio's Appian Way, Malaika Pictures and Wild Lens Collective. “Both of us have the aim to make Sea of Shadows a huge success, but beyond that, we are united in the conviction that we have to save this precious little animal, the vaquita, and that we have to stop the destruction of the entire Sea of Cortez — which Jacques Cousteau once called the ‘aquarium of the planet.’”

Added National Geographic's Carolyn Bernstein: “We’re so thrilled to be partnering with Richard and the entire team, which shares our passion for spotlighting the most urgent environmental issues of our time. This film is a high-stakes, edge-of-your-seat thriller that viewers will not be able to ignore.”

Submarine repped the filmmakers in the deal.