Monday, 2 December 2013


At the moment, this blog is dedicated to opening people's eyes to the great range of films out there. From classics like Sherlock Jr, to modern day masterpieces like Gravity. From foreign films like Amour, to small indie miracles like Beasts Of The Southern Wild. And recently, documentaries. Today's film landed at number 19 on Empire Magazine's top 50 films of 2013. That's above Les Miserables, A Field In England, and Trance. Could it be that documentaries truly are an equally entertaining and enjoyable (as well as educational) genre of film as all our other favourites? But what is causing such a splash? This is Blackfish.

Blackfish, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, is the primarily the story of Tilikum, a killer whale, otherwise known as an orca, that performs in SeaWorld. The documentary takes us through his tale from capture as a calf, to his performances in Sealand and onwards. However, Tilikum is a whale that lives up to his species' name. After killing a trainer in Sealand, causing its closure, Tilikum moved to SeaWorld and, as they all say, history is doomed to repeat itself. But along the way, we are enlightened by fascinating interviews with former SeaWorld trainers who explain the experience of working with the mammoth mammals. They also talk about the darker side of the industry. The lies, the cover ups, the lack of information, the danger they were never informed of. Accompanying this are side stories about other whales and other trainers and even other theme parks in which whales perform. This is far more than a story of a single killer whale; this is a documentary about the nature of the creatures. How gentle they can be but also how violent. How intelligent they are, how emotional, how heartbreaking. The story of Tilikum just links it all together. 

SeaWorld's representatives were flipping out over the film.

Despite SeaWorld claiming that the information portrayed within in the documentary is false or misleading, Cowperthwaite seems to have done her research. Every point the film makes is backed up with either hard evidence such as videos and audio from the courts, or interviews about personal experience in the profession. The latter of which are sometimes jaw-droppingly shocking. One former trainer, Samantha Berg, points out the countless incidents of harm caused by the whales in captivity, and that she was never informed of any of them before her employment. (A shocking list of incidents involving killer whales in the wild versus captivity is available here, on good ol' Wikipedia) Eventually, the evidence is piled up against the treatment of killer whales in captivity and event heir trainers. It becomes somewhat of a horror in the truest sense of the word: what it presents can only be described as horrifying.

They just have a whale of a time.

What Blackfish excels in is its editing. It masterfully paces the way it reveals information throughout its runtime. Revealing its main premise early on and then going back to the beginning, the shocking story of a trainer killing killer whale becomes a terrifying tale of the mistreatment of animals and a new insight into the corruption of greed and power. What seems like a 'look how scary nature is' documentary turns out to ask a bigger question: who is the real monster - man or beast? Cowperthwaite includes video footage that documents the incredible abilities of the trainers and their professionalism around the animals, but also the beautiful and majestic nature of the whales, from their friendliness, to their grief, to their aggression, even in front of an audience. They are used to tell stories and emphasise points, and, in both instances, they help develop the grand scale of shocking information that gets presented.

If Super Size Me put you off McDonalds, Blackfish will likely taint the childhood memories you have of seeing Shamu diving into the air, trainer standing on her nose. Your inner Greenpeace warrior will come out, if only to go after the SeaWorld cooperation that so willingly risked human and animal wellbeing for a few more dollars. A terrifyingly shocking piece of cinema. A real eye opener.

Best Bit? Perhaps should be called worst bit. There is plenty of video footage of orca 'accidents' happening. These moments you simply pray for the trainers, but also feel sorry for the whales.

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