Entertainment

Idaho production company will make its Sundance debut with wildlife documentary

The vaquita is nearly extinct in the northern Gulf of California.
The vaquita is nearly extinct in the northern Gulf of California. Courtesy of Wild Lens

Most independent filmmakers head to Utah’s Sundance Film Festival hoping to make a name for themselves. But one Boisean wants the subject of his documentary to become a household name.

Matthew Podolsky, co-founder of Boise-based production company Wild Lens, said the Sundance premiere of “Sea of Shadows” could be key in raising awareness about the vaquita — a species of small whale whose population has dwindled to fewer than 20 animals.

In 2017, Wild Lens released a short film about the vaquita entitled “Souls of the Vermilion Sea.” Wild Lens teamed up with Austrian production company Terra Mater and a bevy of award-winning cinematographers and producers, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio, for the upcoming full-length production.

“One of the goals that we laid out was to make the vaquita a household name,” Podolsky said.

While the subject of the two documentaries is the same, Podolsky said the whales’ plight became even more dire after the release of the short.

“A lot of really dramatic, unexpected things happened over the past year,” Podolsky told the Statesman in a phone interview. “The way things played out, it ended up being kind of a worst-case scenario.”

The full-length documentary chronicles the effort to capture wild vaquita for a captive breeding program and follows an undercover investigation into the poaching ring that has decimated the whales’ population.

Though Podolsky aims to publicize the conservation crisis, he said it’s almost certainly too late to change the species’ fate.

“Looking at the situation, realistically, the chances of the vaquita escaping extinction is almost zero,” Podolsky said. “It would feel dishonest to say I’m holding out hope (for their survival).”

But Podolsky is holding out hope that “Sea of Shadows” can offer a lesson on the complex nature of conservation.

“The greatest good that we could achieve through this documentary is to make people aware of what happened and why,” he said. “The vaquita will certainly not be the last species to face extinction.”

The 105-minute film premieres Sunday, Jan. 27, at 5:30 p.m. at the Prospector Square Theatre in Park City, Utah, with additional showings Jan. 28 and 31 and Feb. 1 and 2.

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