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Friday, 02 August 2013 00:00

'Blackfish' paints a moving, bleak picture

'Blackfish' paints a moving, bleak picture blackfishmovie.com
Written by Diane Carson
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About this Media...

  • Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
  • Dates: Opens August 2, 2013

For anyone who loves animals or has any empathy, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite's documentary "Blackfish" is as heartbreaking as it is challenging to our definition of humane and intelligent treatment of animals in captivity, especially those that perform for audience's pleasure and businesses' profit. Posing critical questions, "Blackfish" scrutinizes orca whales trained and presented by SeaWorld Entertainment.

The focus of attention is Tilikum, a six ton bull orca, born in 1981, captured off Iceland in 1983, formerly of Sealand of the Pacific (Victoria, British Columbia), and transferred in 1992 to Florida's SeaWorld Orlando after Tilikum's participation in 1991 in the first of three deaths involving him. Most time is devoted to the third death in February 2010, that of experienced trainer Dawn Brancheau which shocked the public and trainers and was misrepresented by SeaWorld, as evident from footage included here.

Investigating all these tragic events, the film provides valuable information about orcas' social organization, their biology, and their cruel captive conditions. Skillfully interweaving interviews and archival footage, the film relies on several former orca trainers who describe their experiences along with comments from a whale hunter who aided in capturing orcas. The inclusion of court testimony is a bit awkward since it's typed on the screen as it's spoken, but the witnesses' comments carry weight nonetheless. The indisputable conclusion is that keeping orcas in captivity qualifies as inhumane; and "Blackfish" doesn't make any bones about it.

Though SeaWorld executives refused on-camera interviews for the film, anticipating "Blackfish's" release, the company mounted a campaign disputing many claims. According to The New York Times (19 July 2013), about 50 critics (I'm not among them) received a "detailed critique" from SeaWorld. Magnolia Pictures, "Blackfish's" distributor, and director Cowperthwaite followed with a "point by point rebuttal" of SeaWorld's refutations. Further debate will, no doubt, follow. However, given the archival footage, the past trainers' first-hand experiences, and the documented deaths, the orcas' situation in captivity is, without question, indefensible and, as far as I'm concerned, a blot on our humanity in the service of what some call entertainment. At a Landmark Theatre.

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