Starring: Tilikum, Dave Duffus, Samantha Berg
Tilikum is a 12,000 lbs. Orca captured from the wild when young for use at the popular SeaWorld parks and has been directly responsible for the deaths of 3 trainers during his time at SeaWorld. Using archive footage from SeaWorld shows, training sessions and interviews with former SeaWorld trainers and Orca experts, Blackfish is an unflinching examination of the devastating and unfortunately tragic effects of keeping such usually pacifistic creatures in claustrophobic captivity for human viewing entertainment.
Though I have never been to a SeaWorld, I myself have been to a show as a child where trainers would get Dolphins and Orcas to perform all kinds of jumps and tricks, and I must confess I enjoyed it without a thought for how they have got these magnificent fellow mammals to perform such tricks. In fact, there was a part of me that felt complicit in the cruelty they endure for going to a show, and that is very much a compliment to this film that I say that.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s often emotionally devastating documentary sheds some light on not only how they get them to perform these tricks, but more importantly the treatment they receive away from the spotlight. It is always easy to shout from the rooftops that keeping animals in captivity is cruel, but Cowperthwaite emerges as a film maker of deep integrity in producing a film that never emerges as preachy or patronising, but lays out the facts and treats the audience with the respect to make their own conclusions.
Indeed, Cowperthwaite did ask SeaWorld to partake in the film, but they naturally declined. However, what gives Blackfish integrity and makes such a moving and at times uneasy watch are interviews with former trainers and the use of archive footage. Speaking with genuine honesty, they also emerge as people with integrity that let their passion for the animals they worked with blind them to the unnatural cruelty that their beloved Orcas actually experienced. Archive footage shows them as young, naive and idealistic when working for SeaWorld but this footage also shows the emotional connection they had with the whales they trained and the genuine emotion they show when interviewed for the film is obvious and genuinely moving to watch.
However, it is the footage and revelations through experts of how these magnificent creatures are treated that really hits home hard when watching. They are such naturally friendly characters in the wild, with not a recorded human fatality in the wild caused by an Orca, yet in captivity they are so different. Blackfish examines the contrasts of these two environments and the effects it has with detail that is genuinely engaging, interesting and at times eye-opening. One of the most moving scenes for me was archive footage of a usually very quiet Orca crying out after their young baby Orca has been taken away from them to another park at an unnaturally young age. However, the entire film is moving and unforgettable, it is easy to show facts, but in Blackfish they are delivered with such genuine and raw emotion that it is surely impossible for anyone not to be moved.
The examination of the fatalities are dealt with the necessary respect, and despite the bond that the trainers think they have with these Orca’s and the genuine integrity behind that, the film examines in detail the context behind these tragic events. These are very intelligent and naturally friendly creatures, and to see what being kept at SeaWorld makes them become is a tragedy in itself. To be honest, I could go on for much longer about this film and so many moments that have devastating emotional power, but I would just recommend to everyone to see this film and I can guarantee they will be genuinely moved by the whole experience.
A genuinely moving and haunting documentary presented with integrity and passion; Blackfish is often uneasy but essential viewing. It is thoroughly deserving of its BAFTA nomination.