EXCLUSIVE: Sandbox Films (Fire of Love) and XTR (Ascension) have teamed to produce feature doc A Life Illuminated, exploring the life and legacy of pioneering marine biologist Edie Widder, in association with ocean exploration nonprofit OceanX.
Set to direct the pic is Tasha Van Zandt, the filmmaker behind such award-winning documentaries as After Antarctica, about legendary polar explorer Will Steger, and One Thousand Stories, about renowned artist JR.
A Life Illuminated watches as Widder undertakes an extraordinary journey into the magical world of bioluminescence, through which she decodes the language of light that allows deep-sea life to communicate in complete darkness. It’s Widder’s unceasing need to understand and communicate with the most enigmatic forms of life on Earth that leads her to dive into the unknown, exploring the profound mysteries hidden beneath the ocean’s surface.
The film will draw upon Widder’s vast archive, from her earliest dives in deep sea submersibles, to her groundbreaking video recordings of bioluminescence in the ocean, to her work capturing the first video in history of a live giant squid in its natural habitat, to reveal the hidden worlds in our ocean and the menagerie of groundbreaking discoveries that so fascinated the scientist. At the heart of the story is Edie’s expedition aboard OceanX’s OceanXplorer, the most advanced ocean exploration vessel ever built.
In addition to Van Zandt, producers include Sebastian Zeck, Greg Boustead and Jessica Harrop of Sandbox Films (who also exec produce), and Kathryn Everett. Tate Nova is co-producing, with Alison Klayman also exec producing, alongside Ray Dalio of OceanX.
“The majority of life in the deep sea is bioluminescent, and because the deep sea is so vast, bioluminescence may be considered the most common form of communication on the planet. Yet this language of light is one of the least understood,” explained Van Zandt in a statement to Deadline. “Edie has spent her life researching this phenomenon, and through this film, Edie will take us on a voyage into a part of the world that has rarely been seen. I am immensely honored to bring Edie’s story to the screen, and I hope it inspires audiences to embrace a sense of wonder, curiosity, and responsibility for the magnificent mysteries that await us beneath the ocean’s surface.”
Added Sandbox Films’ Head of Production & Development, Jessica Harrop, “Watching Edie travel deep into the ocean in a small submersible is riveting and wondrous. At Sandbox Films, we are thrilled to be working with Tasha to tell Edie;s story, and our hope is that this film will inspire a new generation of scientists to ask big questions about how deep sea creatures communicate with light.”
Specializing in documentaries rooted in scientific ideas that inform society and culture, Sandbox Films is perhaps best known for its Sundance prize-winning documentary Fire of Love, examining the lives and careers of volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, which landed an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature earlier this year. Other notable titles from the company, launched in 2020, include the Sundance Special Jury Prize winner All Light, Everywhere, released by Neon and Hulu, and Apple’s Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, from filmmakers Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer, as well as the Emmy-winning Fathom and Emmy-nominated Human Nature.
A non-fiction entertainment studio founded by Bryn Mooser in 2019, XTR is best known for projects like Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado, Cinema Eye Honors Award winner Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, Sundance Special Jury Award winner The Fight, Emmy-winning Covid doc 76 Days and Tribeca prize winner Ascension, among others. Most recently, the company has seen the release of titles including Reality Winner and Plan C.