Blackfish is a documentary about killer whales in captivity at Sea World with particular focus on one male Orca, Tilikum, who has a history of aggressive behavior resulting in the deaths of two trainers and one trespasser.
Tilikum was caught off the coast of Iceland at a young age, taken from his mother and put in a concrete pool with dominant females who were aggressive towards him and often rammed and raked him. After an incident at the park Tilikum was sold and shipped off to Sea World where they bred him to the point that most of Sea World’s whales are descendents of Tilikum.
I’m totally chickenshit when it comes to movies or documentaries where animal torture or abuse is depicted. I made my husband watch the documentary before I did so I didn’t have to deal with anything horrific that would bum me out for days. Although the film deals with some unsettling issues it’s not overly graphic or hard to watch.
While there is footage of other whales beating up on Tilikum and footage of him brooding on his own not moving for hours, it’s the frustration that Tilikum experiences that is heartbreaking. It is utterly tragic that he kills people out of this frustration but he has had such a hard life. There’s footage of baby whales being taken from their mothers and the reaction of the mothers is hard to watch. For Tilikum to know the wild and spend the rest of his days in captivity wasting away is horrible.
One criticism would be that it is not that balanced, and that is in part due to Sea World declining to partake in the film, but Sea World have acted appallingly and anything they would have said to defend the park really can’t excuse the misery that the whales endure and the risks the trainers take. They tend to lay the blame on trainers not following protocol and downplay the aggressiveness of the whales.
You can read Sea World’s opinions of the film here and if you paid attention to the film the things they contest were addressed, (they did use footage of days old Kalina but mentioned she was 4 when she was moved) but Sea World’s reason for splitting a mother and a baby is because the whale didn’t do what they wanted which was for them to earn money. They also accuse the director of misleading viewers into thinking they are watching the lead up to Dawn Brancheau’s death but in the Q&A the director states that it is not Dawn Brancheau in the opening credits.
The film is clearly anti-captivity and I don’t think this is a bad thing, what good is there in captivity unless you’re talking about endangered species. What good has come from Tilikum’s suffering and these deaths? Some people got entertained for a half hour?
It’s really nauseating seeing some of the Sea World ads from the 80s and footage of the crowds going absolutely nuts. I am not anti-American or think that all Americans are dumb but this is such an American thing, the hype, the excitement the merchandise. In New Zealand we go on nature tours and view animals in the wild. I mean come on can’t you just watch a Jacques Cousteau DVD? When I think of dolphins I think of them swimming in Fiordland in the crystal clear water surrounded by fiords, not with some asshole riding them.
Blackfish made John Waters’ top 10 films of 2013 and he said of the film “A whale snuff-film documentary that’ll make you root for the kidnapped killer mammal and wish he had eaten alive Sea World’s evil owners.”. What more is there to say except highly recommended.
There’s a 20 minute Q&A with the director, a theatrical trailer and a selection of Madman trailers as extras.
DIRECTOR(S): Gabriela Cowperthwaite | COUNTRY: USA | YEAR: 2013| DISTRIBUTOR(S): Madman | RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes