Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Documentary Film Review- Blackfish (2013)

Figure 1- Blackfish poster 

Blackfish is an expository documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who is known as a director of films about real life stories. Blackfish is a documentary about orcas (killer whales) that are kept in captivity. The film particularly focuses on the orcas of SeaWorld, a chain of theme parks specialising in marine life. For many years there has been speculation about whether the park has been caring properly for the animals kept by them in captivity, but the cinema release of Blackfish confirmed suspicions by bringing an in-depth insight into SeaWorld to the big screen. The film is made up of interviews, news reports, Seaworld TV adverts and camera footage of SeaWorld. Though Blackfish may include many stories that criminalise SeaWorld, the film centers on one true story to bring the picture together. It follows the story of Tilikum, an orca that is kept by SeaWorld to perform and breed from. Tilikum is famous for killing three people, the last being the most well known human death linked with orcas.

The film begins with interviews from ex-trainers, who talk about how they became animal trainers in SeaWorld. This is a way to get the audience to resonate with the interviewees and not condemn the events at SeaWorld. As they have agreed to take part in the making of Blackfish, they have shown that they are no longer on the same side as SeaWorld. Then the film takes a dark turn and interviews a man who was part of a team capturing orcas from the wild in the 1980s to be sold on and kept in captivity. The man interviewed stated how he was one of the people that took baby orcas from their mothers and how the situation was like snatching a young child from their parents. The documentary then moves on to talk about orcas, their natural habitat, behaviour and intellect. By doing this the film has given a positive and honest portrayal of orcas to the audience, making them sympathise with them. Already the film has shown how the orcas have been victimized by organisations like SeaWorld.

Figure 2- an orca captured 

At this point the film begins to look into Tilikum and how he was treated when he was first put into captivity. When talking about the first human death related with him, the film gives a neutral perspective, yet still giving away the cause of the tragedy. It talks about the ill treatment Tilikum received from the park he was kept at and also the other orcas living there. This suggests that Tilikum may have been responsible for that death, because the poor treatment he got may have caused him to become mentally unwell, and lash out at a human. The film dives further into this option by focusing on the orca species, and how the animals are highly inelegant and are capable of experiencing emotions. This is the films way of almost humanizing these animals, to have the audience resonate with the animals and imagine what it would be like to be treated as these orcas have been.

Tilikum is then moved to a branch of SeaWorld, where he is be trained and perform with animal trainers in live shows at the park. The ex-trainers interviewed at the beginning of the documentary talk of how Tilikum seemed to be a gentle and clever orca, yet the staff of a higher authority at SeaWorld constantly remained aware of him, with out the trainers knowing why. The film now shows an example of SeaWorld lying to their animal trainers about Tilikum. By withholding the information about the death of a staff member at Tilikum's last home, SeaWorld can let their trainers go ahead and work with this orca. This part of the film de-criminalizes the ex-trainers as it is an example of something out of their control. SeaWorld lied to them and so they were mislead into working with Tilikum.

Figure 3- training an orca

The climax of the film is centered on the last victim Tilikum killed. Dawn Brancheau was a senior trainer at SeaWorld and in 2010 she was brutally killed by Tilikum in a demonstration. The people interviewed for the film knew Brancheau, and were distressed when speaking of her death. This is the final way of Blackfish getting it's point across to the audience. So far the film has shown how SeaWorld has been damaging the lives of orcas, but now the film shows how tragic it has also been for the people involved. SeaWorld attempted to pin the blame on Brancheau, by making out she had made a mistake in the performance, which lead to her death. However the circumstances of the attack, and how publicly it was shown, there was no way for the establishment to cover up the fact that they have been using a dangerous animal to make money. The film illustrates the dishonesty of SeaWorld and criminalizes it for the all things wrong it has done to both orcas and humans.

To conclude this was a powerful film with grounded evidence that shatters the romantic image SeaWorld has created of itself. The release of the film made tickets to SeaWorld drop dramatically in numbers, which shows how successful this film was.

Illustration List

Figure 1- Blackfish poster:
Figure 2- an orca captured:
Figure 3- training an orca:

1 comment:

  1. Interesting choice of documentary may also like this one too.

    The Cove (2009)