Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: John Hargrove, Samantha Berg, Jeffrey Ventre, John Jett, Mark Simmons, Dean Gomersall, Kim Ashdown, Carol Ray, Christopher Porter, Eric Walters, Steve Huxter, Ken Balcomb, Howard Garrett, Lori Marino, Dave Duffus, John Crowe, Suzanne Allee, Estefania Rodriguez, Mercedes Rodriguez
Written by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Eli B. Despres
Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing and violent images
Running Time: 83
Date: 07/19/2013
IMDB

Blackfish (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Whale Songs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This excellent documentary follows in the footsteps of the Oscar-winner The Cove, a call for the rights of sea creatures captured and forced to perform in theme parks. But while The Cove is about the shockingly cruel practices of hunting dolphins, Blackfish tells the story of aggravated orca whales that have the capacity to push back.

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Blackfish begins with the death of Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at SeaWorld, while working with the park's biggest male orca, Tilikum. Official reports tried to blame the incident entirely on Dawn. The reason for this? Tilikum is worth too much money to the park, both in admissions and toy sales, but also for his breeding prowess. Death is secondary to profits, the movie seems to be saying.

Cowperthwaite interviews several former trainers, many of whom shed tears during their confessions. Old footage of them shows them toeing the company line, putting a happy face on everything. But now they understand that the cruelty of the orcas' living conditions probably had a psychological effect on them. The movie shows the relationships between orcas and humans as complex; the trainers deeply loved these huge creatures, and though it's impossible to know what the whales are thinking, they also seemed loving and playful in return. It could even be possible that the act of grabbing a trainer by the teeth and dragging him or her underwater was an act of play. (The movie asserts in one scene, which is highlighted in the trailer, that there's no record of an orca -- a.k.a. a "killer whale" -- ever harming a human in the wild.)

The movie contains a lot of older video footage to go with its talking heads, some of it heartbreaking, some of it terrifying, and some of it joyous. But the ultimate point is that, even though most of the interactions between whales and humans is beautiful, these theme parks are inherently cruel. Life forms have been forced into an environment in which they cannot thrive. That death is the result of this, however infrequent, should be reason enough to think about change. Blackfish is powerful enough to plant that thought in many minds.

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