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Thursday, June 6, 2013
SFF Review: Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013)
During our lifetimes many of us will visit a marine park and marvel in awe at the common main attraction – the seemingly harmonious interaction between 8,000-pound plus orcas or “killer whales” and their human trainers. Blackfish, directed brilliantly by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, is a captivating and harrowing documentary investigation into the fascinating nature of the orca – their supreme intelligence and development of different languages, their open water gracefulness and clinical hunting abilities – and the cruel mistreatment of those kept in captivity and trained for human amusement. Also examined are the indecencies of the marine park industry and the decades of incidents, manipulated to hide the truth and keep the business afloat. We see the devastating consequences of human exploitation and greed, with nature the executor of revenge.
Concisely structured, thoroughly researched and powerfully argued, Blackfish plays out like a thriller, with an especially troubled soul at the core. We broadly track different branches of the industry – orca hunting and transportation, corporate emphasis on profits over the wellbeing of the animals and safety of the trainers, and the enthusiasm-come-disillusionment of park employees – through the decade-spanning life Sea World Orlando’s largest male, Tilikum. Eventually deemed responsible for the tragic death of experienced trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, Tilikum’s life has been a rough one.