News

‘Blackfish’ documentary dives into killer whale captivity

‘Blackfish’ documentary dives into killer whale captivity

Tillikum, a killer whale at SeaWorld amusement park, performs during the show "Believe" in Orlando in this September 3, 2009 file photo. Photo: Reuters/Mathieu Belanger/Files

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Gabriela Cowperthwaite was a mom who took her kids to SeaWorld when the death of a killer whale trainer at one of the marine parks sparked her latest filmmaking project.

The documentary “Blackfish” was originally conceived without a point of view as Cowperthwaite set out to answer the question of why a top trainer at SeaWorld became the victim of the killer whale with which she worked and performed.

The resulting film that opens in movie theaters on Friday, however, turned out to be a critical look at the consequences of keeping killer whales in captivity.

SeaWorld has launched its own campaign to challenge the criticism of “Blackfish,” which has drawn comparisons to the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” about the killing of dolphins in Japan, a film embraced by animal activists.

In a statement released this week, SeaWorld accused the film of painting “a distorted picture” of its facility, calling it “inaccurate and misleading,” as well as exploiting “a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau’s family, friends and colleagues.”

Brancheau was killed in 2010 by the great orca, Tilikum, at SeaWorld in Orlando. Although reports differ as to how exactly she was pulled under the water, the autopsy report revealed she died of drowning and blunt force trauma.

“Blackfish” traces the life of Tilikum, who has been performing for 30 years since he was captured in 1983 around the age of 2.

“The Hollywood Reporter” described “Blackfish” as “emotionally powerful,” “harrowing” and “a damning indictment of the SeaWorld theme park franchise.”

That was not what Cowperthwaite had in mind.

“I don’t come from animal activism – I am a mother who took her kids to SeaWorld,” said Cowperthwaite, 42. “I thought (the Brancheau) incident was a one-off. In my mind, I was going to make a larger philosophical film about human beings and our relationships with our animal counterparts.”

Things took a turn when, during Cowperthwaite’s two-year project, she discovered that Brancheau’s death was not an isolated incident, and that Tilikum was involved in two other deaths since 1991.

SEAWORLD QUESTIONS ‘GOOD FAITH’

By interviewing Tilikum’s former trainers, along with academics and whale experts, the documentary paints a portrait of a captive orca whose behavior appears to come from the stress of the circumstances he was unwittingly placed in after his capture three decades ago.

Cowperthwaite said she exchanged emails with SeaWorld over the course of six months in an attempt to get its side of the story. She provided a list of questions she wanted to discuss, but in the end, the answer she got was “no.”

“I wonder whether it was because the truth is in some ways very complicated, very dark,” she said. “How could they address those incidents without being defensive or sounding negligent?”

“Or maybe because I’m not a famous filmmaker, they thought this movie will go away and fall by the wayside.”

When contacted by Reuters, SeaWorld’s vice president of communications, Fred Jacobs, said in a statement that SeaWorld is “much more likely to cooperate with authors or filmmakers when we feel they are approaching the topic in good faith, with a true commitment to balance, fairness, and accuracy. That did not appear to be the case with this project.”

Former SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg, 45, who worked with Tilikum when she was in her 20s and is featured in “Blackfish,” told Reuters it’s not about being “anti-SeaWorld” but “anti the way things have been done up to this point.”

“I’m rooting for SeaWorld to change its business model, retire the whales and stop the breeding program,” Berg said. “Given what we now know, there is a moral responsibility for us to do the right thing.”

Cowperthwaite hopes that “Blackfish” will inspire others to take action and not be “passive consumers” like she once was.

“I hope future generations will become more agile in seeing past veneers,” she said.

Recent Headlines

in Music

Glen Matlock denies new Sex Pistols reunion

John Lydon, right, and Glen Matlock of The Sex Pistols perform at the Roxy in West Hollywood, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007.

Sex Pistols star Glen Matlock dashes fans' hopes of another reunion by insisting he hasn't had any contact with John Lydon in five years.

in Music

Aretha Franklin storms out of fast food joint

FILE - In this May 11, 2013 file photo, Aretha Franklin performs during McDonald's Gospelfest 2013 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.Franklin won’t say what has caused her latest health problems, but says she’s had a “miraculous” recovery and is looking forward to performing soon.In a phone interview on Tuesday, Aug. 20, Franklin said that she recently had a cat scan and that it showed she was 85 percent improved. The 71-year-old has canceled several concerts and public appearances and blamed it on unspecified treatment.

Aretha Franklin stormed out a Johnny Rockets in Ontario, Canada last week after a nasty encounter with a rude employee.

in Music

The Beatles wanted to film ‘Lord of the Rings’

FILE- This is a 1967 handout image from Parlophone of The British group, The Beatles,. From left, are: Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney; and George Harrison. The woman who as a child was the basis for the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is gravely ill. It was thought by many at the time that the psychedelic song from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band was a paean to LSD because of the initials in the title, but it was actually based on a drawing that John Lennon's young son Julian brought home from school. He told his father the drawing was of Lucy in the sky with diamonds. Lucy Vodden, now living in Surrey just outside of London _ drifted apart after schoolyard days, but they have gotten back in touch as Lennon has tried to help Vodden cope with Lupus, a life-threatening disease.

Peter Jackson reveals John Lennon could have played Gollum in a Stanley Kubrick directed LOTR adaptation.

in Entertainment

Fans support campaign to keep Sean Bean alive in new show

British actor Sean Bean arrives for a special UK screening of Cleanskin, at the Mayfair Hotel in central London, Monday, March 5, 2012.

The "Game of Thrones" actor has died more than 20 times in his career, and fans want it to stop.

in Entertainment

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ sequel set for 2017

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Marvel unveils plans to press ahead with a sequel to "Guardians of the Galaxy," days before the superhero movie even hits theaters.