BLACKFISH (Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Howard Gilman Theater
Tuesday, December 24, 5:00, and Wednesday, December 25, 4:00
Series runs December 20-26
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish is a deeply disturbing, immensely heartbreaking, and intensely maddening documentary that looks into the deaths of several orca trainers killed by Tillikum, a six-ton killer whale who has been performing in captivity for a quarter of a century, at such locations as Sealand in San Diego and SeaWorld in Orlando. Inspired by Tim Zimmerman’s “The Killer in the Pool” article in the July 2010 issue of Outside magazine, Cowperthwaite meets with current and former SeaWorld trainers, OSHA representatives, family members of the trainers who were killed, and men who helped capture orcas in the wild, painting a stunning portrait of mistreatment and straight-out cruelty of the highly intelligent and sensitive mammals who have been put on display for decades, continuing to perform for tourist audiences even after they kill. No one blames Tillikum for what happened; it’s the brutal system, and SeaWorld’s lack of response, that is called into question. “A lawyer for OSHA asked me what I thought we’d learned, and I’m sitting in the courtroom, and I’ve got the Kelty Byrne case file in one hand and I’ve got Dawn Brancheau in the other and they’re almost to the day twenty years apart and I’m looking at these two things and my only answer is nothing,” OSHA expert witness and whale researcher Dave Duffus tells Cowperthwaite. One of the most heart-rending parts of the film occurs when diver John Crowe, choking back tears, relates the story of capturing orcas in Puget Sound in 1970, stealing the young ones away from their crying mothers. Cowperthwaite (City Lax: An Urban Lacrosse Story) includes promotional videos, news reports, court transcripts, and new and old interviews, getting every side of the story but one — SeaWorld refused to make any statements on camera, although the company has publicly disputed many of the claims following the film’s release. The controversy is far from over, as such musicians as Barenaked Ladies, Cheap Trick, Trisha Yearwood, Willie Nelson, Heart, and others have recently canceled concerts at SeaWorld Orlando in support of the film, which also features a mournful, elegiac soundtrack by Jeff Beale. Blackfish is not an easy film to watch, centering on humanity’s needless inhumanity to fellow mammals, all in the name of the almighty dollar. Blackfish is screening December 24 at 5:00 and December 25 at 4:00 as part the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “For Your Consideration: Documentary Oscar Hopefuls,” which runs December 20-26 and consists of all fifteen nonfiction features that have made the Academy Awards short-list, including The Act of Killing, Life According to Sam, The Crash Reel, First Cousin Once Removed, and Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The festival will be followed December 27 - January 2 by “For Your Consideration: Foreign Oscar Hopefuls,” comprising such international fare as Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster, Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Neighboring Sounds, and Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda.