News Column

Trending: Rachel Wise: Film focuses on captive killer whales

November 3, 2013


Nov. 03--"Never capture what you can't control," reads the ominous tagline for Gabriela Cowperthaite's new documentary "Blackfish," a film that examines the treatment of marine animals in captivity -- focusing specifically on killer whales.

Using the tragic story of bull orca Tilikum, who has been involved in the deaths of three people while in captivity at marine parks since 1983, "Blackfish" makes a damning case against theme park giant SeaWorld.

The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 19 and was later released in select U.S. theaters on July 19. Then, on Oct. 24, "Blackfish" made its television premiere on CNN.

Ratings showed the film was No. 1 among cable news networks shows during its time slot, making it CNN's highest-ranking film this year. It's also been met with overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim and currently has a 98 on Rotten Tomatoes.

According to one reviewer, Barbara Vancheri of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the movie "does what a good documentary should."

"It takes you behind the scenes, assembles people who are knowledgeable or were witnesses to key events (often with video proof), asks important questions and fuels further debate about whether creatures should be caged for our enjoyment and education," she wrote.

And the beauty of the film's premiere and encore showings on CNN is the enormous additional exposure it has received, and will continue to receive.

"In the theater, the audience is already going to see a documentary that challenges some of the ideas they have," "Blackfish" director Cowperthaite said. "What I think is exciting about CNN is having someone who has given no thought to animals stumbling across a documentary and being drawn into" it.

The documentary thoughtfully and methodically investigates many key issues of keeping animals in captivity for entertainment's sake, and it makes a compelling case against continuing this practice. However, it does so without any comment from SeaWorld, which declined interview requests. The result is, unfortunately, a one-sided viewpoint of a complicated story.

Although it has no voice in the film, SeaWorld has responded by issuing a statement.

"Blackfish is billed as a documentary, but instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy," the statement reads, in part. "The film paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld."

Cowperthaite said when she set out to make this film, she only hoped to answer some questions about trainer Dawn Brancheau's 2010 death. Instead, she wound up "profoundly changed" by what she learned. And as a result, she has issued a call to action, a hope that "Blackfish" will inspire a movement for captive killer whales to be retired into sea sanctuaries.

SeaWorld has stood firm in their opposition. In response to the documentary, Michael Scarpuzzi of San Diego SeaWorld insists the film "focuses on a handful of incidents over our long history at the exclusion of everything else."

"There is no acknowledgment anywhere in the film of the great things SeaWorld does every day or the simple fact that our animals are healthy and passionately cared for," he wrote.

Continue reading on the #trending blog.


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