Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Starring: Kim Ashdown, Ken Balcomb, Samantha Berg, Dawn Brancheau
Written by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite and Eli B. Despres
Running Time: 83 mins
Release date: 26th July 2013
Documentaries are increasingly getting stronger and stronger when it comes to cinematic art forms. Already this year we have had three exceptional documentaries: Side By Side, First Position and The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone. None, however, can match the power and emotion of one of this year’s most shocking and disturbing films, Blackfish.
Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. Along the way, director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the mulit-billion dollar sea-park industry.
This is one of those films that grabs your attention from the very first scene and refuses to let go till the end credits rolls. It is a harrowing tale of how animals in captivity are still a threat and a danger and how a large corporation as SeaWorld can pull the blanket over the eyes of the ordinary public.
It would have been easy for Ms Cowperthwaite to have given us a gung-ho, activist approach to the film but as she said herself, she was coming to the film as a mother who had taken her children to SeaWorld and as a documentary film maker.
Several times throughout the film I sat with my mouth wide open in horror as the tale of this creature unfolded before my eyes. Trust me, it isn’t an easy film to sit through. From the attack marks that the female whales make on the male, to the sequence in which an expert trainer is repeatedly dragged under the water by a killer whale and his face that, while he acts calmly with the animal, his face tells a thousand words.
The testimony about Dawn Brancheau, the trainer who was killed by Tilikum and the centre of the whole picture is heartbreaking. From the people who worked with her and knew her, you cannot help but be emotionally drawn into it. Thankfully, Ms Cowperthwaite doesn’t overbear the piece by playing the emotional card too often. It hits home just enough to make you feel repulsed by the actions of the company.
I also felt shame while watching it because I had been to SeaWorld and seen the Orca show (and, for that matter, might have even seen Ms Brancheau) and had been captivated by the grace of the creatures and the information that had been shared by the keepers. I was taken in by the razzle-dazzle of the show, with the music and enthusiasm that the trainers had. Never did I really know the true story.
If you are a lover of animals, this might be a hard film to see but I urge you not to ignore it. It will shock, it will upset but it is also a powerful and beautifully polished piece that will stay with you long after the final credits have rolled. Cinema can be a powerful tool. I just hope that after this, something will happen to change how animals in captivity are really treated.