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Blackfish
Genre Documentary
 
Review:

The Cove sent tremors around the world, exposing the barbaric hunting of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. The film-makers brought the shocking seasonal slaughter into full view, shining a spotlight on Japan and the International Whaling Commission's lax policies around whaling and so-called "research". The Cove's courageous and tenacious film and surrounding activism not only won more than 25 film awards, it helped effect change on a global scale.

The Cove touched on some delicate matters, suggesting that SeaWorld is one of the companies that buys dolphins from these hunts. While these claims are disputed, the focus has not shifted from this entertainment company's business practices. Instead, another deep concern has been raised in the form of a documentary called Blackfish.

Blackfish follows the life story of the Orca, Tillikum, a young bull who was captured and raised in captivity. "Tilly" as he came to be known is now responsible for the deaths of three people, including a top trainer. Blackfish seeks to inform viewers about Orcas and their innate emotional world, raise awareness about their treatment, expose the misinformation at the core of SeaWorld and argue why Killer Whales should be free.

Writer-director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, presents a powerful, eye-opening and moving documentary in Blackfish. The film is a companion piece to The Cove, except it hits closer to home. For many Americans, seeing dolphins being herded and slaughtered in Japan was devastating, yet must have felt like just another international travesty. Blackfish is more personal, in the way we journey with the hero and villain, Tillikum. It's also more local, happening in their backyard at SeaWorld, a place that undoubtedly holds nostalgia for many audience members.

SeaWorld were unavailable to be interviewed for Cowperthwaite's documentary. However, through interviews with former trainers and staff, we're still able to get an insider's perspective. The trainers are not vindictive. They are people, who were genuinely passionate about their jobs, yet naive and unaware of the ill effects of the industry until it was too late. Their personal stories add a special touch, juxtaposing somewhat haunting footage of their performances with the Orcas.

Blackfish is not for the faint-hearted as the footage is disturbing at times. The Orcas are sometimes aggressive with each other in their little artificial "families" and it's not uncommon for there to be blood and tooth grooves. More horrific is the footage, showing some near drownings, accidents and build-ups to deaths involving trainers. It's not easy-viewing and some of the witness accounts and interviews are truly heartbreaking, but these images and emotions just add clout to this documentary's important message.

Blackfish packs a punch, both emotionally and intellectually. We're forced to face up to something that, like the SeaWorld trainers, just didn't feel right on a number of levels. No one would manage to stay psychologically fit stuck in a bathtub for most of their lives and as well-off as they'd have us believe - the wild is where they belong. Blackfish is an important documentary, one that seeks to uncover an issue that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore or hide.

The bottom line: Powerful

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