Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blackfish: A Powerful Documentary

Having heard so much about the film D and I have had Blackfish in our Netflix cue for months now. We just kept putting off watching it because we could tell it would be a very depressing movie, and on most nights we're tired or worn-out and are looking for something fun and easy to watch. Well, this last Saturday night we had a nice relaxing day and decided that we were actually up to tackle the film. And we were right, it was a disturbing film to watch. But very powerful. I am still haunted by it. My dad has been in the environmental movement for over 30 years, and he's focused his efforts on marine life. Therefore as a child even though I live just 2 hours away I never was taken to Sea World. I have to say I feel good about that after seeing this film. Thanks for that dad!

The film builds it's narrative around the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau at the hand of the orca Tilikum in 2010. The film goes back to the 1970's when companies started capturing killer whales (I prefer the term "orca") and traces the events and incidents that make a case for how mistreated these animals are, and therefore how dangerous they are to the humans working with them. The idea is that Tilikum's traumatic early years and the ongoing challenges of being a performing animal may have created a psychosis in him that is lethal.

One reason the movie is so powerful is that because these events took place in recent times, and because they took place in public tourist areas, there is actually a lot of real footage. It's hard to escape the realities of the situation when you can actually see it. For example, the footage of trainer Ken Peters battling with an orca that seems intent to drown him is terrifying, especially when you watch his frantic swim to eventual safety. But the beginning of the film really sets the stage by talking about how orcas live in family packs and the effects on the whales when their young were captured. The mother whales grieve and cry and won't leave their children and it's very upsetting to watch. As a mother, I just imagined some alien creatures coming, stealing my baby, and taking her someplace to torture her for the rest of her life. It's just such a horrible thought.

The film definitely has an option and a point of a view and it gets it across very well: the real footage of orca attacks, tracing the history of Tilikum from his capture to where he is now, interviews by ex-Sea World trainers, including info on the OSHA court case against Sea World, and eye-witness accounts of attacks when they didn't have footage. But, there are people that have come out and said the film is not accurate and that it's trying to be manipulative. Sea World themselves have put some effort into specifically addressing and discrediting the claims made in the film. Seeing as I haven't done any of my own research I can't speak to the accuracy of the film. But certain things make me think the film is on the right side of things. And it looks like other people think so too since music groups have started cancelling performances at the parks and schools have reportedly also cancelled field trips. I hope this trend continues.

The film was so distressing it;s hard to say that I recommend it, but I do think it's something everyone should see. Even if we are no longer capturing orca's in the wild and even if Sea World has changed their policies I feel it's important for us to see what misinformed things we were doing even a decade ago. Maybe it can help us look more clearly at some of the things we do today.

Did you guys see Blackfish? What did you think?

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