2020 Sundance Docs in Focus: THE COST OF SILENCE

THE COST OF SILENCE | Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by John Wathan

Mark Manning exposes a nearly decade-long cover up of a public health disaster in the wake of Deepwater Horizon.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

On April 20, 2010, a deadly explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling unit resulted in the largest environmental disaster in American history. To clean up the estimated 130 million gallons of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days, chemical dispersants were used in unprecedented quantities, and the public was assured that they were safe. Almost immediately, local residents and workers began to develop health problems. Nearly a decade later, they are still suffering the consequences, with no one held accountable.

Mark Manning, a former deep-sea oil-field diver turned filmmaker, began his investigation into the Deepwater Horizon disaster soon after the spill began. In the intervening years, he has uncovered disturbing evidence of coordinated efforts between the petrochemical industry and the federal government to cover up an ongoing public health disaster. As the federal government now plans the world’s most extensive offshore drilling expansion, with a blanket approval of a chemical dispersant clean-up plan, THE COST OF SILENCE is an urgent exposé of the outsize power of Big Oil and the dangers of offshore drilling.

Some Background:

Director/Producer/Executive Producer:

  • Mark Manning

    As indicated above, Manning had a background as an oil industry insider before turning to filmmaking. In addition, he co-founded a humanitarian relief agency which provided medical support in Iraqi combat zones. This is his second full-length feature.


  • Langdon Page
    Past Sundance docs:


    Page is an established nonfiction editor who has worked with filmmakers including Abel Ferrara, Greg Barker, and Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. This is his second producing credit.


  • Reuben Aaronson

    Aaronson co-directed, produced, and shot Manning’s previous mid-length documentary, THE CONSEQUENCE OF OIL. He has an extensive background as a director of photography, a role he maintains on this project as well.

Executive Producer:

  • Jeff Sagansky

    Sagansky previously produced or executive produced Sundance fiction alumni projects DELHI CRIME and THE KILLING ROOM. He is the former president of CBS Entertainment and co-president of Sony Pictures Entertainment.



Why You Should Watch:
As noted in my program description above, Manning’s background has provided him a unique, insider perspective to cover this story. While other films have told the Deepwater Horizon story, the disaster has largely faded from the public consciousness, with the assumption that the clean-up efforts were successful. Those still reckoning with the aftermath reveal a different story – one made all the more urgent given the Trump administration’s backward-thinking rollback on environmental protections.

More Info:

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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