Monday, 12 August 2013

Film Review: Blackfish

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Runtime: 83mins

Rating for Ireland: 15 (North), TBC (South) 

Blackfish is a powerful documentary that will leave the viewer appalled at the use of highly-intelligent killer whales as amusement park attractions.

It shows how their treatment while in captivity has led to increasingly aggressive and eratic behaviour resulting in the deaths of a number of people while raising serious questions about the conduct of SeaWorld and other such corporations.

The documentary follows the 22-foot-long, six-ton orca named Tilikum, who was captured in Iceland in 1983 and separated from his mother while only two years old.

Tilikum has spent almost his entire life in tiny pens, being forced to perform tricks for the entertainment of huge audiences.

In 2010, Tilikum killed his senior trainer, Dawn Brancheau, in a prolonged and vicious attack. The killing was world news and SeaWorld repeatedly tried to place the blame on the trainer, with their version of what happened changing numerous times. It was not the first occasion that Tilikum had been involved in the death of a human: he had already killed twice before.

The film includes emotional interviews with many of those who worked with Tilikum – from the fisherman who captured him as a baby to the various trainers who worked with him and also the families and friends of those who have been killed.

SeaWorld declined all invitations to be interviewed.

Many of Dawn's former colleagues also speak out against the treatment of the animals in the park, with former trainers clearly embarrassed by their own conduct and peddling of mistruths to audiences. They also claim they had been kept in the dark about the creature's violent history and were not informed that it had been responsible for the death of trainer Keltie Byrne in 1991.

Scenes showing SeaWorld staff separating orca mothers from their offspring are heartbreaking as the highly-intelligent creatures scream and cry for their young to be returned. Other clips shot be spectators at SeaWorld show shocking footage of the whales attacking and seriously injuring their trainers.

Visually the film relies on a lot of 'talking head' shots and archival footage but the narrative is so enthralling and well-researched that the audience remains glued to the screen.

Blackfish is a hard-hitting documentary which raises serious questions about the morality of keeping highly-intelligent, sentient creatures in captivity for human entertainment.

Blackfish is in cinemas now and will be released on DVD on 26 August.

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