Blackfish (2013) ****
Dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Imagine a world where your child is ripped from your clutches before your very eyes and you can do nothing about it. Imagine that same child then being held captive for the rest of its life in the most abominable conditions. Imagine your child being tortured, deprived of food as punishment and forced to engage in all manner of humiliating, unnatural acts for the foul, perverse edification of those who get off on it. Imagine your child's unending sorrow, frustration and pain - both physical and psychological.
Imagine a point where your child, when given a chance, lashes out at its captors and savagely kills them. Would you blame your child for taking the life of one of its captors? Of course not. If given half a chance you'd tear the sons of bitches to pieces yourself.
The problem here is that this particular pervert, this aberrant, pus-swilling scum-bucket of slime is not your average garden variety serial killer. No, this pile of rancid excrement is amongst the foulest of them all.
Not unlike the Dole corporation that was properly eviscerated by Fredrik Gertten in his groundbreaking Big Boys Gone Bananas and all the corporate filth that torture animals as seen in Liz Marshall's extraordinary The Ghosts in Our Machine, we're talking specifically about the Florida-based SeaWorld, a corporate entity that reeks of the vilest lucre, like any vat of raw sewage would - raking in billions of dollars at the expense of Orcas and other harmless creatures that are stolen from their natural habitats and/or bred against their nature in captivity, then tortured.
By extension, this includes ANY water park that houses ANY creatures of the oceans for the edification of drooling inbred humanoids and their snot-nosed, brain-bereft progeny (including Canada's disgusting Niagara Falls attraction MarineLand with its sickeningly offensive TV commercial jingle "Everyone Loves MarineLand"). No, we do not love MarineLand. Everytime the commercial comes on television, my own little girl used to cry and now that she's a bit older, she tosses whatever she can in disgust at the TV screen.
"The Orca brain just screams out, 'INTELLIGENCE!'" - Blackfish interviewee Lori Marino, neuroscientist
With Blackfish, filmmaker Gabriella Cowperthwaite fashions an eminently compulsive big-screen experience. Structured like a procedural cop thriller, we follow the mystery involving Tilikum, a 5000-kilo Orca - responsible for killing two of its trainers and indirectly, the death of another in three different water parks.
Using an expert selection of archival footage, all brand-new interviews and illustrated reconstructions of data and court proceedings, this is a superbly edited film that initially seems to point its finger at the Orca itself, but as the film proceeds it brilliantly morphs its villain from Tilikum to the amusement parks that house sea creatures for aquatic performances and in particular, SeaWorld.
This is filmmaking of the highest order.
On a journalistic level, it digs deep to expose the truth and on a narrative level, it mines its subject for greater truths. Again, it's proof positive, at least to me, the importance of documentary - not so much a form, but rather, a genre of cinema in and of itself, and as such, delineating the differences between documentary work that is dull and information-based (most TV doc series) with that which goes the distance - using every resource of film as an art to create a work of both scope and profundity.
Even more fascinating is the film's perspective in a journalistic sense. There is no clear (or in the case of a lot of bad films, a sledgehammer) to deliver a Western Union-like "message" to its audience. Certainly in the case of Tilikum's plight (and that of all the poor creatures abused and tortured in such parks), the film could have effectively been structured as a plea to save these animals and end the existence of such parks, but this approach was absolutely not necessary since Cowperthwaite's integrity as a journalist and artistry as a filmmaker allows her to assemble "just the facts, M'am" - giving voice to those whose voices have been stifled for far too long.
The overall effect of presenting factual information in this fashion (wherein the seams of the film's expert craft are invisible) allows audiences to formulate their own response which, for most reasonable and intelligent audiences will be a mixture of anger and sadness that we, as a species, continue to work well beyond the scope of our place in the food chain, to exploit, subjugate and in many cases threaten complete genocidal annihilation of other living creatures (and by extension, our own).
The movie is finally not a WHOdunnit, but rather a bit of a HOWdunnit and a whole lot of WHYdunnit.
Cowperthwaite presents the factual story with the capture of Tilikum off the shores of Iceland on behalf of SeaLand, the grim and thankfully now-defunct Canadian marine park in Victoria, British Columbia. During this segment, we learn that Tilikum was only 4-years-old when it was snatched from its Mother.
Doing the math on that means this: Female Orcas can live up to 100-years-old in the wild, and even though males live traditionally fewer years - an Orca at the age of four is, for all intents and purposes, "a child". It not only needs its Mother, but she in turn is still there to nurture, love and protect.
It's been scientifically proven that whales and dolphins have a part of their brain that not even humans possess - one that allows these animals an extremely rich emotional life - a sense of family, of caring and love are not only inherent in these creatures, but the intensity of these emotions is so extreme it makes the human equivalent pale in comparison.
One Orca fisherman is interviewed about what it was like to capture an Orca toddler from its mother. What he describes - in support of the aforementioned intensity inherent in Orcas - will not only evoke tears from the audience, but is, in fact, something that, in the telling, has the fisherman himself on the verge of breaking down emotionally.
The film describes the physical and emotional trauma to Tilikum due to its kidnapping and subsequent incarceration in the tiniest space imaginable at the wretched SeaLand. It's here where Tilikum kills his first human, a trainer who slipped into the water with him.
Her death was not a pretty sight - especially not to the shocked customers who witnessed the woman's death, yet none of whom were ever contacted by any authority to present their eyewitness testimony. Luckily, Cowperthwaite captures it for the film,
SeaLand in Florida - knowing all too well that Tilikum had killed a trainer in B.C. - bought the Orca. Supposedly it was for breeding purposes only, but eventually it was enlisted to perform in the SeaLand show. Yes, Tilikum's sperm is used for breeding, but the manner in which this is done is presented in the film as clearly painful and cruel for the beleaguered Orca.
It was at SeaLand where Tilikum killed again - this time, a very experienced and beloved trainer who, among other indignities, was scalped, had her arm ripped off to be enjoyed as an Orca snack. The official State agency for health and safety in the workplace took SeaLand to court over this and won a decision to keep trainers and whales separated.
SeaLand is, however, appealing this decision. This is clearly their LEGAL right, but one wonders if it is a MORALLY reasonable right. Corporations are, however, not human. They have no sense of morals, nor do they distinguish between right and wrong in their single-minded hunger to make money.
They are entities unto themselves.
The important feature documentary The Corporation by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan (a companion piece to Bakan's book "The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power") offer perhaps the most astonishing exploration of corporate mentality in recent ddecades. On the film's website we get some excellent background on both the book and film's contentions:
". . . law professor and legal theorist Joel Bakan contends the modern business corporation is created by law to function like a psychopathic personality. [. . .]Corporations are required by law to elevate their own interests above those of others, making them prone to prey upon and exploit others without regard for legal rules or moral limits. Corporate social responsibility, though sometimes yielding positive results, most often serves to mask the corporation's true character, not to change it. [. . .] The corporation's unbridled self interest victimizes individuals, the environment, and even shareholders . . . Despite its flawed character, governments have freed the corporation from legal constraints through deregulation, and granted it ever greater power over society . . ."
Well, shut my mouth! As we see in Cowperthwaite's film, SeaLand's response to pretty much everything discussed in the aforementioned position taken by The Corporation.
Who is blamed for this woman's death? The corporation? Nope. They, certainly won't take the rap.
Uh, Tilikum? Uh, well . . . he is the Orca who chowed down on her, but the spin won't place the blame on the animal (as well, ultimately, it shouldn't).
In the film, we see clearly that the burden of responsibility in terms of SeaWorld's media spin and legal defense is foisted upon the trainer who, of course, is dead and unable to defend herself. (It's kind of like the Orcas. They can't speak "human" and are unable to defend themselves against the indignities they suffer.)
What's even more appalling are the outright lies and inaccuracies shoved into the brains of staff at the aquatic park. Time after time, Cowperthwaite's film delivers a litany of straight-faced ignorance on the part of the park's employees - much of it flying in the face of genuinely expert testimony on the part of other trainers, scientists and researchers the film interviews.
Tilikum is not responsible for the third death we're shown in the film. His sperm is, though. Four of his progeny are sold to a notoriously irresponsible Spanish water park where one of the Mini-Me Orcas dines on another experienced trainer.
By the way, some of the nicest people in the film are all the former trainers interviewed who genuinely display love for these great creatures, but have to sadly admit how they were duped (sometimes even by their own emotions) into believing both corporate spin, outright falsehoods and/or withheld information.
Hilariously and predictably, SeaWorld is going out of its way to attack Cowperthwaite and her film on the eve of its theatrical release. Her film, however, makes it very clear that SeaWorld was given numerous opportunities to present their side of the story in the film, but chose not to.
They can attack the film all they like.
Who in their right mind - save for the boobs who fill such amusement parks with their spawn - will even begin to believe SeaWorld's claims of Cowperthwaite's "unfair" portrait?
Please see this movie! Please see it with your children and discuss it with them! Teachers should urge their media buyers to secure this film and then make sure children see it. They will be less likely to demand their parents take them to these places. Hopefully, a whole new generation of kids can be inspired by this film (and others like Liz Marshall's Ghosts in Our Machine).
Hopefully after seeing this film, audiences will NEVER AGAIN patronize aquatic parks like SeaWorld, MarineLand and all others of the same ilk. Giving money to these corporate entities is to allow them to profit from the torture of animals - all in the guise of entertainment and education.
Sea creatures belong in the sea - not in grubby tanks where they're forced to perform tricks before morons who cough up their hard-earned dough to be entertained by this. There's enough garbage already generated by Hollywood to fulfill the needs of the Great Unwashed for mindless stimulation.
There's no need to torture real animals for that.
"Blackfish" is being released via Kinosmith and will begin its theatrical run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox
Oh, and if you actually do go to one of these aquatic clip joints, and notice that the dorsal fins of the not-so-happy sea creatures are flopped over, please enjoy the following links handily available on the wonderful Ocean Advocate website to YouTube clips posted by Heather Murphy and Jeffrey Ventre that will provide two explanations for this. The first is from SeaWorld. They have many "interesting" explanations for Dorsal Fin Collapse:
However, if the SeaWorld explanation doesn't cut it for you, perhaps you'd be better off with the excellent paper by Wende Alexandra Evans HERE
Or you might also enjoy the following clip (posted by Jeffrey Ventre on YouTube) which features a conversation on the matter with an actual expert in Orca study, Dr. Astrid van Ginneken:
To read my review of Liz Marshall's brilliant, heartbreaking and poignant The Ghosts in Our Machine from Indie-Can Entertainment, please click HERE.
To read my review of Fredrik Gertten's powerful portrait of corporate greed and corruption Big Boys Gone Bananas (including an interview with Gerrten), pleese click HERE.
For more information on The Corporation, visit HERE.