SUNDANCE: Directors Tease 'Computer Chess,' 'Spectacular Now,' 'Emanuel And The Truth About Fishes,' 'Salma,' And 'Blackfish'

Blackfish, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Notorious killer whale Tilikum is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top killer whale trainer. Blackfish shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity.

Blackfish quick pitch:
The story shows us what can happen when you put one of the world’s most intelligent, powerful, and beautiful predators in a tank of water, make them do tricks, and “add humans” to the recipe.

Why it's worth checking out at Sundance and beyond:
Oh I think you might be in for a ride. I guess I’m hoping you experience the same shock and discovery I experienced while making the film. But I had 2 years. You get 82 minutes!

How it all came together:
I think the thing that takes everybody by surprise is that I took my kids to Sea World multiple times before making this film. When I started making the movie, I thought I was making a movie about the death of a trainer. It was only when I started filming that I discovered that nothing in this industry is what it seems. I was blown away by what I learned. So from that moment on, I think the biggest challenge for me was not putting things in the film. There was so much disturbing information, I found myself wanting to shoe horn any alarming fact into the film, even if it wasn’t part of the story. But in the end, I refrained because I didn’t want the film to feel manipulative. I knew if we had a chance to make this film stand out, it would be because we stuck to telling the story, not inundating an audience with damning facts designed to scare them or piss them off. So one of my strongest challenges was staying disciplined about telling the story. 

I think another of the biggest challenges was trying to interview people. It’s amazing how terrified people are of that marine park. Sometimes people would be willing to speak anonymously, but even they would eventually back out for fear of repercussions. Twice we had already flown to locations, unpacked our gear, only to learn that our interviewees had backed out. It was frustrating. This extends to other parks too. Our fixers at Loro Parque were terrified of being on camera for fear of what the owner of Loro Parque would do. They stood away from our cameras and whispered when they spoke. I want to say there was nothing to be afraid of, but we were followed and our pictures were taken on more than one occasion.

On the Blackfish clip (above):
The clip is actually our opening. I thought of the scene while I was interviewing a trainer. He was describing what it was like to do a “rocket hop.” This is a trick the experienced trainers do at Sea World, where the trainer is launched up into the air essentially off the nose of an orca. To me, the scene is a visual metaphor for the spectacle of the show above water versus the reality underneath. Above water you see a brilliant spectacle, a beautiful show with happy animals and trainers. Beneath the surface, you see what could arguably turn into a terrifying interaction at any moment. It still scares me every time I watch it!


Sundance 2013: Where Stephenie Meyer, Harry Potter & Pussy Riot Worlds Will Collide

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