Monday, 6 January 2014

Blackfish (2013) - Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Okay so first up I should say that I’m a vegetarian and have been since about the age of sixteen. So that’s about twenty five years now. Also I don’t like zoos or the idea of wild animals being held in captivity for any reason other than their own safety. One last thing, I abhor the idea of animals being used for entertainment or to make money. Okay so with all that out in the open I think it’s fair to say that I brought a healthy amount of baggage with me when I watched this documentary. Probably enough to ensure that I’d have to pay a surcharge to get it all on the plane.

So what’s Blackfish all about? Well the long and short of it is this. Tilikum is a killer whale who ‘works’ at SeaWorld in Florida. You know what SeaWorld is, it’s one of those places where hordes of people pay money to see dolphins and other marine life jumping out of the water and performing tricks for them. After which you can head off to the restaurant to spend some money, before buying some cuddly toys on your way out. Problem is Tilikum has been killing his trainers and has so far notched up three kills. SeaWorld just like any good capitalist, fudges the evidence and manages to convince the outside world that it’s not Tilikum but the trainers that were at fault. After all you gotta keep those people flowing through the gates, and those dollars in the till haven’t you? And that’s mighty hard to do if your public think that the star attraction is a serial killer.

So anyway that’s the skinny. The documentary itself is very one sided purely because SeaWorld refused to be interviewed or give any kind of statement about what has happened. So instead it focuses on asking why is it that killer whales in captivity have a staggeringly huge record of injuring and in some cases killing humans, when in the wild that sort of thing never happens? Unlike a lot of documentaries Blackfish actually manages to get to the bottom of this mystery with surprising ease. In fact to be honest, I kind of knew the answer going in myself. It’s the exact same reason why Roy Horn (of Siegfried & Roy fame) was attacked by one of his tigers, and the same reason why Timothy Treadwell was ripped apart by the bears that he loved so much. These are wild animals, and as such are unpredictable, once you forget that and start treating them as your pets then all is lost. It’s just a question of time before they snap and decide that they’ve had enough of having some leather-skinned chappie sticking his head into their mouth, or having someone on their back as they swim around a tiny pool. And who can blame them?

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has fashioned a superb documentary out of some great talking heads footage (ex SeaWorld employees and killer whale experts), and some utterly gruesome home video footage of the whales flipping out. You’ll have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by it. I think most people will watch it through a permeant stream of tears. The film it shares a lot of themes with is 12 Years A Slave, mothers being forcefully separated from their children the idea of a living being being little more than property etcetera. As I said there will be tears. I’ve always hoped that in a few generations time they’ll look back at our era and think, “Really they kept animals in cages, what were they thinking?” Hopefully this documentary will make a few more people think about what to do on their family day out, and head for the beach, or the woods, or the fun fair or whatever, just as long as it’s not to a zoo or marine park. Well worth seeing.

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