Saturday, December 28, 2013

Short Cut Movie Review: Blackfish

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

In response to the popularity and Oscar win for the documentary film The Cove, comes another version of a marine mammals in distress call to action documentary in Blackfish. The subject here is killer whales in captivity and specifically those used at sea amusement parks like the famous Seaworld in Orlando, Florida.


This is about as straightforward as documentaries get with several talking head interviews, most of them former trainers for Seaworld, and some 1980s – 1990s home video footage of acts at the parks. What director Gabriela Cowperthwaite is really looking at is whether or not killer whales are suited to being held in captivity and used in entertainment shows by examining one particular whale, named Tillikum, that allegedly suffered physical and psychological trauma at Sealand in Victoria, BC, before killing a trainer. This whale was then purchased by Seaworld, but none of the trainers there were told of the whale’s history. And a Seaworld trainer was eventually killed by this whale.

Working with wild animals is always a dangerous business and the people who do it have to understand the risks they incur. Of course an organization also has a responsibility to inform its staff of an animal’s history of violence. But that doesn’t seem to be at all what Blackfish is focused on. It’s more interested in the broader philosophical picture of killer whales in captivity and families separated causing tremendous grief in the mothers.

I’m obviously not an expert in this, but it seems to me rather difficult to make the argument against marine mammals in captivity but not against all types of zoos and aquariums. The issue they should be exploring is whether or not Seaworld is a legitimate research and preservation institution. Based on the evidence provided, they are primarily an entertainment enterprise motivated by profit first, which probably led to poor decision making. But I don’t think that means killer whales are any special type of animal any more than, say, gorillas.

Unfortunately Seaworld declined to participate in the film which makes most of the arguments very one-sided. I think this film should rightly lead you to question whether or not you ever want to patronize Seaworld again. For me, that’s more to do with the cynical way they purchased a potentially dangerous animal on the cheap and that they try to pass themselves off as experts in marine biology, dispensing false information to visitors.

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