A documentary following the controversial captivity of killer whales, and its dangers for both humans and whales.
Year 3, Film #22
THE GOOD: Documentaries can be very tricky. On the one hand, they need to entertain the audience, like all films need to do. But documentaries also have the added job of educating the audience as well. It’s important to note that there can be several different ways to educate an audience. It can be very one-sided, personalized, and with a clear agenda in mind (like all of Michael Moore’s documentaries). Or it can be much more observational and hands-on like Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me.
Blackfish has the entertainment part covered fairly well. The pace is kept up and we never linger on one place too long before seeing new people or some new angle. While the main focus is on SeaWorld, there’s a lot of time spent in other places like Sealand of the Pacific in Canada and Loro Parque in Spain. In addition to a variety of settings and interview subjects, there’s also the inherent entertainment-factor of seeing the Orca whales and other animals swim around and interact with the humans. There is a negative spin put on those moments as one of the messages is how these animals are harmed, but nevertheless, the images you see can be breathtaking at times and definitely keep you attentive.
While I’ll get into some negative aspects about the education element of Blackfish, the simple fact is that no matter the validity of the statements and how much the story might have been twisted to fit a narrative, this film raised (and is still raising) awareness for the mistreatment of whales and other sea creatures that are kept in captivity. There is a problem of misinformation (again, which I’ll get into) and in that case, widespread awareness may not be the best thing since that means millions of people are learning the wrong thing. Now I won’t get into right and wrong here since I’m sure the truth is quite complicated, but with Blackfish, even though there might be a hidden agenda the filmmakers were aiming for that distorted some people remarks, in this case awareness is paramount. The crux of the film seems to be based in truth and raising awareness about that has the possibility to lead to change.
THE BAD: My main issue with Blackfish is about the misinformation and distortion of the facts that seem to take place. Unlike a Michael Moore documentary where I go in expecting to be told facts from only one perspective, Blackfish seems like it will be a fairly equal and un-biased film based in facts (albeit with a clear intention for a certain message). While I couldn’t really place why I felt like the film was misrepresenting people during my viewing, I knew the first thing I would do after it finished was to look up how people reacted to it.
Obviously SeaWorld claimed the film was inaccurate, but what really got me going was to see the several of the trainers (including ones interviewed for the film) spoke up to say they felt their quotes were not necessarily taken out of context, but certainly used in a way they weren’t expecting. Here are two articles where Bridgette Pirtle and Mark Simmons (both former trainers who were interviewed in the film) reacted to the final piece.
Now these articles too should be taken with a grain of salt, especially Mark’s which has the feeling of jealousy written all over it because he had, “spent 3 hours of time on film being interviewed [the director] Gabriela, talking about his many years with Tilikum and at SeaWorld in general, had every reason to believe that he would be used as the main authority in this film,” and turned out to have very little screen time.
But the important thing to realize here is that no matter how you look at it, parts of the story seem to be either missing completely, or misrepresented. It never feels like you’re being deliberately lied to but there is a lack of trust. Instead of focusing on the animals (the orca whales in particular), the harm inflicted upon them, the dangers of captivity, and what could be done to fix it, Blackfish feels more like a personal vendetta against SeaWorld. SeaWorld might be the biggest part of the problem and should take responsibility for any harm to animals or dangerous situations they put their trainers in, but the filmmakers should also take responsibility for making a film that feels trustworthy instead of one that’s like a creepy guy driving by in a van asking kids if they want some candy.
THE TAKEAWAY: When it comes down to it, Blackfish accomplishes its goal of raising awareness for the mistreatment of orca whales and other marine animals and does so in a way that can entertain and keep you attentive. It may try to sensationalize things and twist certain facts to fulfill the filmmaker’s message rather than telling a story that fits the facts, but that can be something to figure out later and do your own personal research on. Blackfish starts the conversation, you can help finish it.
THE RATING: 3 out of 5