Blackfish is a documentary released in 2013 which was co written and directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. I first saw Blackfish in 2014 on television and was a documentary which was gaining a lot of attention. After watching it once I couldn’t think about watching it a second time. For week 4 in BCM310 I watched it just before the lecture. This is a very powerful documentary and a great piece of advocacy journalism. It is successful as Sea World decided in 2013 to stop breeding orcas in captivity. It makes you think differently about Sea World in America but most importantly promotes awareness towards caring for orcas. Orcas are commonly perceived as vicious killers when in fact they are a smart and intelligent mammal. Below I will show how this documentary conveys sympathy towards captive orcas through the use of interviews, archival footage and commercials shown in the documentary.
(The Telegraph 2014)
Blackfish reveals a 40 year history of orcas being horribly mistreated at Sea World. Sea World lied to the public about how they treated the orcas. The first strategy the documentary used was interviews which helped us identify with not only the interviewees but the story that is communicated. The film maker interviews former sea trainers and marine scientists who have a highly intelligent knowledge on these mammals. Earlier in the film a fisherman tells the experience of what it was like capturing an orca from the wild and transporting it to Sealand Washington. The Orca was with its family as he states:
‘it was the worst thing I have ever done’.
When he says this visuals show archival footage of the orca being taken away from the ocean. Blackfish uses this storytelling strategy repeatedly throughout. As someone describes an event where an orca is treated terribly archival footage is shown, displaying quite a long take. By having a longer take we memorise the scene clearly. It still has an effect days after you have watched the film.
After showing an incident whether it’s an orca bleeding or a person being attack by an orca. The documentary then shows a commercial. For example there is a commercial where a family say how great their experience was at Sea World. After being shown the brutality this commercial is shown to communicate one of the documentary’s main messages a lot more powerfully. How can Sea World encourage people to see orcas for money and run advertisements when they are lying to the public about the condition these mammals are in.
Another reason why we sympathise with the orcas is because of the regret that sea trainers felt. They feel regret of decisions they made in life. Some of them wish that they chose a very different lifestyle. They were in positions where they tried their best to help orcas. They realise they added to the problem as well. When people admit regret it is hard for the audience not to feel sympathy for these trainers. Blackfish is a documentary which educates people about orcas and where there true habitat is. It highlights the distortion of facts and repetitive practices of propaganda by Sea World.
Black Fish is a simply constructed documentary. 83 minutes. That’s how long it is. It doesn’t have to go for any longer. By having a small running time the documentary has long and lasting impact. It does not further support mainstream perception of orcas and does not offer any attempt to rationalise. It has resulted in a mass decline of tourists visiting Sea World parks around the world. It makes them human like us. When a baby orca is taking away from its mother an interviewee states:
‘can you imagine been taking away from your family’
I can’t because it’s too hard to imagine. Asking questions that are directed to the audience make us think. Especially questions that hit us particularly hard like that one.
Blackfish 2013, film, Manny O Productions, San Diego California USA, Written by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Eli B. Despres, and Tim Zimmerman, Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Evans, N 2016, ‘looking at animals’, lecture, UOW, 23 March