Blackfish-UK-Quad-PosterThe hotly anticipated documentary Blackfish finally hits UK screens, and given the emotional depth to this story, it’s one that certainly won’t disappoint. The breakthrough film for director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Blackfish centres around Tilikum, a 12,000 pound orca whale who is said to be responsible for the deaths of five people since being brutality imprisoned in captivity since he was two years old. Bullied by other orcas and kept in astonishingly poor conditions and forced to perform at SeaWorld, the film explores the effect that his maltreatment has had on his mental state, which has ultimately lead to his aggressive behaviour that has been the cause of these fatalities.

Cowperthwaite’s presentation of the facts is both naturally emotive and educational, and she resists the temptation to feed the natural, morbid curiosity of the audience, preferring to include only small amounts of information relating to the horrific injuries sustained by the victims, and uses poor quality footage of the attacks rather than going down the route of ‘horror show’. This choice, as well as being more dignified, ensures that the drama is hinged almost entirely on the plight of the whales. A mild criticism could arguably be that there isn’t quite enough emphasis on the human victims in the story, and whilst they are not ignored, given that the cruelty to the whales kept at SeaWorld is indirectly causing the deaths of human beings, there’s surprisingly little in the way of acknowledging the real loss of innocent people, aside, perhaps, from Dawn Bracheau; the most recent victim of Tilikum’s frustration.

The villains of the piece are obviously SeaWorld. Despite being repeatedly asked to take part in the film they declined, although they have since responded to certain allegations made in the film, and you can see their response on the film’s official site, although don’t except any admissions or apologies (or in fact anything of any credibility whatsoever.) Cowperthwaite is keen to highlight the lengths that SeaWorld have gone to in order to cover up their own shortcomings, and the film (perhaps worryingly) displays a clearer compassion and understanding of the nature of these bold and beautiful creatures than SeaWorld do.

In terms of filmmaking, the film has a somewhat conventional format, with interviews from former SeaWorld trainers and experts interspersed with archive footage and the occasional animation – but the devastation and heart break that watching this film causes cannot be overstated. Of course it’s going to be upsetting and of course you’re going to leave feeling rather angry at the human race, but it doesn’t make viewing any easier. It’s a soul crushing piece of cinema.

Based on format alone, the structure is sometimes a little jumbled, but the film is essential viewing and will certainly make you leave the cinema feeling incensed, outraged and in most cases, probably crying. It’s a tough subject to approach in a dignified way but Cowperthwaite certainly nails it. Let’s just hope it’s enough to save the whales.


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