Directed by Richard Ladkani (The Ivory Game), Sea of Shadows is a riveting documentary that, while providing much needed information about an endangered species, is also an immersive storytelling experience.

There are only 15 vaquita porpoises that survive on this world, and they reside near the Sea of Cortez. Fisherman have cast their nets into the surrounding ocean to catch totoaba, a fish whose swim bladders are valuable in the Chinese market. These nets end up catching other marine life in the area, including the vaquita. Every person in this totoaba chain are grabbing a profit, and it is imperative to put an end to this criminal operation.

Journalist Carlos Loret De Mola and Earth League International head Andrea Crosta are just two of the individuals who are determined to expose these traffickers. The documentary also spotlights the efforts of Dr. Cynthia Smith’s efforts to create a Laquita program that will ensure their safety and gradually increase their numbers. A non-profit organization called Sea Shepherd also add to these efforts, as they patrol the oceans to grab these illegal fishermen’s nets, placing their own lives in harm’s way.

These are just a few elements that are part of Sea of Shadows, and Ladkani could have easily made this a talking head documentary and still make it a worthwhile and informative viewing experience. Instead, he places his camera and crew right in the thick of the action, as we witness the efforts to save a vaquita as well as follow Crosta’s undercover mission to gain valuable intel from one of the traffickers. During the documentary’s final chapter we have a bird’s eye look at a riot that seemingly turned dangerous at a moment’s notice, and Ladkani was there to capture the moment.

It’s difficult to blend propulsive, arrestingly shot narratives while also providing audience members with intriguing information, but Sea of Shadows excels in both aspects. It’s a must see documentary from National Geographic, and one of the best films of this year.

Sea of Shadows, executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, opens nationwide July 12.

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Posted by: Greg Srisavasdi