Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite.
Running Time: 83 minutes.
Synopsis: Notorious killer whale Tilikum is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top killer whale trainer. Blackfish shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity.
Every now and then, you watch a documentary and understand, concur and empathise with events. You’d be forgiven for thinking that BLACKFISH would be a psychological look into the life of a Killer Whale named Tilikum and, very simply, how this bull whale being kept in captivity had caused the mammal to develop issues that we usually only relate to a deep-rooted human psychosis. But Cowperthwaite’s film takes us to the upper echelons of investigative work and not only reveals some appalling facts about Killer Whales in captivity, but hits you hard in the process.
In 2010, Dawn Brancheau was one of SeaWorld’s most experienced and intuitive trainers, but was killed by Tilikum, the 12,000-pound Orca in question. Originally, it was reported that the whale had grabbed her ponytail after she slipped and that it was a horrific accident, but as you now might consider, things weren’t as they seemed, and a lot of first-hand reports had either been ignored or simply not recorded.
In BLACKFISH, it transpires that the Tilikum case wasn’t the first, and that it really began in 1991 at ‘Sealand of the Pacific’ in Victoria, British Columbia. Back then, the bull whale was often bullied and attacked by the stronger females in the group when they were kept in an incredibly tiny pool and pen at night – only 30 x 20 foot long and deep. The sad story is that when Keltie Byrne ‘accidentally’ fell into the pool one day, the three whales used her as a toy and she drowned. After that incident, Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld in Orlando but what happened was never further explored or reported and – most worryingly of all – none of the new staff in Orlando were told what actually happened.
What’s been said so far doesn’t reveal the full, unforgettable investigative work that’s yet to come, as BLACKFISH has to be one of the most revealing, honest and heartbreaking pieces of work seen in years. The balance of story is impeccable and it works because it didn’t set out to fight for the animal activist; filmmaker Cowperthwaite just wanted to look into a story that didn’t quite make sense.
This is the kind of documentary that has to change something significant. It should inspire and stir-up an ever-growing movement that simply has to question and delve into places like SeaWorld (who refused to comment) over the rules of captivity for these Orcas. When you fit together the pieces of their existence and how the Whales are barbarically removed from their families, BLACKFISH shows how these highly evolved, empathic creatures are split from their communities. To put it into further context, the companies behind these kinds of sea parks rip apart the social groups of these great mammals, and it’s nothing less than kidnapping.
After watching BLACKFISH, you’ll never look at the likes of SeaWorld as anything more than a profit-making company with questionable morality. Shocking, informative, eye-opening and most importantly factual, if you see one documentary this year, make it BLACKFISH.
[usr=5] BLACKFISH is released in UK Cinemas on July 26th. You can also find more information over on Dogwoof, via this link.