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Blackfish - Review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

GABRIELA Cowperthwaite’s excellent documentary Blackfish deserves to be placed at the top of anyone’s must-see list.

Her film follows the story of notorious killer whale Tilikum, who is responsible for the deaths of three individuals over the course of his life in captivity, including a top killer whale trainer.

In doing so, it also examines the shocking tactics employed by entertainment parks such as SeaWorld Orlando and the devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent creatures in captivity.

Taken from his mother in the wild when he was young (in footage that is harrowing), Tilikum was first sent to the now-defunct Sealand in Canada where he was regularly abused. Cowperthwaite’s film doesn’t hold back on showing the shocking cruelty that took place, which culminated in the first death involving the whale.

From there, and despite questions surrounding his temperament, Tilikum found himself at SeaWorld Orlando where his suffering at the hands of the park’s owners (not trainers) and fellow whales continued.

Perhaps most incredibly, this majestic 12,000lb bull orca remains at SeaWorld today – but the details of his ‘life’ make for a depressing parting shot that is almost certain to make viewers angry and – maybe even – want to do more.

Cowperthwaite herself says she felt compelled to make Blackfish after hearing of the death of Tilikum trainer Dawn Brancheau in the summer of 2010, and “to understand this incident not as an activist, but as a mother (who had just taken her kids to SeaWorld) and as a documentary filmmaker (who can’t let sleeping dogs lie)”.

The ensuing “labor of tough love” saw the director and her team “bombarded with terrifying facts, autopsy reports, sobbing interviewees and unhappy animals”. But she persisted, in the belief that she had “a chance to fix some things that had come unraveled along the way”.

“All that I had to do was tell the truth.”

It’s true that the ensuing film isn’t easy to watch but thanks to her incisive reporting (which includes many interviews with former SeaWorld trainers), some genuibely disturbing footage and an ever-mounting sense of injustice, Blackfish remains a towering personal triumph that should resonate powerfully with every viewer that sees it.

It also deserves to sit alongside other documentaries such as Project Nim and The Inside Job as films you need to see, if only to give you a better understanding of how the world sometimes works.

Find a Blackfish screening

Certificate: 15
Running time: 83mins
UK Release Date: July 26, 2013