Saturday, 27 April 2013

Sundance London 2013: Blackfish Review

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Synopsis: A chronicle of Tilikum, a killer whale captured and trained at SeaWorld, that killed several trainers in captivity.

The vast ocean is home to millions of creatures – some harmless, and others extremely dangerous. Whilst the Orca whale has not been known to harm many humans, Blackfish aims to show that in an unnatural environment, they may be prone to shake up the statistics.

The 30-foot-deep tanks at SeaWorld at Orlando, Florida apparently hold many secrets. In Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary we are privy to the murky depths of those tanks and the horror that happened several times within them. Starting off with footage of what you believe to be an attack, Cowperthwaite illustrates the tension that courses through the film right from the beginning.

Arranged with talking head interviews, illustrated depictions of court cases, and collections of incredible footage, Blackfish glides through its run time, as elegantly as some of the Orca performances. To watch the whales is enjoyable enough, but with the added danger that attracts the “killer” connotation, you are captivated. Tilikum is a mysterious focal point, forever surprising both you and those that had the (mis)fortune of being in his company. Much like Nim in Project Nim and the grizzlies in Grizzly Man, there’s no telling to how the fierce creature will behave – waiting for the assumed action constantly has you on edge.

One misjudgment, perhaps, is the lack of discussion about Dawn Brancheau, the third victim. Dawn’s death bookmarks the film and as the biography of Tilikum advances, we realise that Dawn’s death is soon to be upon us. Having seen an array of footage where Tilikum lashes out, there is the thought that we will see something of Dawn’s demise. It’s part-morbid curiosity, part-expectation (after witnessing quite a lot of horrifying footage) that we’ll see something of the attack. The lack of footage and the short eulogy of Dawn subtracts from some of the predicted poignancy. More empathy can be found in the tragic story about a trans-atlantic trainer, Alexis Martínez, who was also killed by a captive Orca.

There is also little suggestion about how to better - or eliminate – the cruel confinement of the resort whales. Despite this minor flaw, however, there is plenty of material to shock and disgust you about the situation – in a way,  Cowperthwaite’s smart way to avoid spoon-feeding you a boycott message. You will leave Blackfish surprised and stunned by all that is shown, and definitely with your own developed opinion that SeaWorld, Marineland, Loro Parque et al need to be closed down.

Helped by an eloquent score from Jeff Beal and Cowperthwaite’s fine-tuned direction, Blackfish can be extremely affecting at times. The unpredictable nature of these types of mammals and the strange connection people have with them (where death is nearly always at your door) continually makes for an interesting documentary. Blackfish may not stay with you as long as Herzog’s Grizzly Man manages to, but there’s no doubt that you’ll ever forget the footage and the emotion behind the story.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

No comments:

Post a Comment