When it comes to nature documentaries, people normally think Attenborough, jungles and lots of slow-motion showing the beauty of nature. But director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite is about to turn the animal documentary genre on its head with her Sundance feature, Blackfish.
The documentary, also co-written by Cowperthwaite, focuses on the male performing killer whale Tilikum, who has been involved in the deaths of several whale trainers during his time in captivity. What enfolds is a shocking case history of corporative cover-ups and the knock-on effects of keeping such a species in enclosed environments. Like many corporation-targeted documentaries, such as Super Size Me, Blackfish points the finger at famous theme park SeaWorld and similar tourist attractions that keep killer whales (orcas) for visitors’ entertainment. This, in addition to the monetary value orcas represent, paints them in a very different picture compared to the cute and cuddly mammals seen in Free Willy.
Through snippets of archive footage and in-depth interviews from past trainers, safety officials and whale hunters, it is hard not to get emotionally sucked into this uncommon tale of animal cruelty. The idea of zoos and nature-based theme parks keeping animals under lock and key is not unheard of, but seeing the consequential side-effects these conditions have on species like killer whales, which include territorial behaviour and physical attacks between male and female orcas, makes quite shocking viewing.
Cowperthwaite focuses her directorial efforts on getting the full story behind Tilikum and his gradual descent against the conditions imposed against him, effectively showing that there is more behind the forced smiles and huge splashes. A news clip featured summarises the film perfectly: “If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?” In this context, this argument is unquestionable.
Blackfish is a well-edited and intriguing documentary, which delivers its message in a subtle yet memorable way. Shows featuring killer wales will never be seen in the same light again.
Blackfish is scheduled for release in UK cinemas on 26th July.
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Writers: Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Eli B. Despres
Stars: Samantha Berg, Dave Duffus, Dean Gomersall
Runtime: 83 mins