Blackfish (2013)

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 2.56.04 PMDocumentary/Special Interest

Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

PG-13. 80 mins

An eye-opening documentary that forces audiences to take a deeper look behind tourist hotspots that use mammals as entertainment, profiting at the expense of their quality of life while risking the lives of trainers all over the world.

Many children can recall a trip (or two, three, four) to Seaworld over the years. The experience of watching a majestic orca, or killer whale, perform for crowds of people has become an experience so common, the general public rarely contemplates what goes on behind the scenes. Are these mammals truly happy living in captivity? Are these mammals really living in harmony with their trainers? Those questions are rarely asked as our society continues to think of these majestic animals as friendly giants, even excusing their ability to kill as a result of “trainer error” while ignoring their deplorable living conditions and subsequent aggravation towards the people who continue to imprison them and separate them from their loved ones. The film uses the story of notorious performance whale Tilikum, who – unlike any other orca – took the lives of several trainers while being held in captivity, to explore these complex issues. The most infamous case being the sudden attack on Dawn Brancheau, a gifted trainer who was brutally mauled by Tilikum in the middle of a performance. Afterwards, Seaworld was quick to blame Brancheau for the attack, citing trainer error and continuing to hide the truth behind the companies less-than-ethical practices. Using never-before-seen footage and candid interviews with several ex-Seaworld trainers and experts in the field, the film persuasively convinces the audience why so many have become disillusioned with the highly profitable sea-park industry.

Blackfish is both heartbreaking and deeply disturbing; It builds like a murder mystery as it challenges the viewer to reconsider our relationship with nature and the highly intelligent mammals we attempt to control for our benefit. While it doesn’t have the sensationalism of films like The Cove, Cowperthrwaite’s calm direction is perhaps what makes it so convincing. Not to be dismissed as merely an emotional film pandering to animal lovers – Blackfish is a grim, yet informative exposé on corporate greed, inhumane practices and horrifying consequences – * * * *

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