Blackfish is an impassioned documentary that will change the way you look at performance killer whales. The film tells the story of Tilikum, one such whale that killed three people while in captivity. Director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the sea-park industry. Coverage of Tilikum begins with his capture in 1983 off the coast of Iceland, showing how he was harassed by fellow captive whales and left in dark tanks for hours – incidents which Cowperthwaite argues contributed to the whale’s aggression. Blackfish shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity. This emotionally wrenching, tautly structured story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from these fellow mammals.
Many of us have experienced the excitement and awe of watching 8,000-pound orcas, or “killer whales,” soar out of the water and fly through the air at sea parks, as if in perfect harmony with their trainers. Yet, in our contemporary lore this mighty black-and-white mammal is like a two-faced Janus—beloved as a majestic, friendly giant yet infamous for its capacity to kill viciously. Blackfish unravels the complexities of this dichotomy, employing the story of notorious performing whale Tilikum, who—unlike any orca in the wild—has taken the lives of several people while in captivity. So what exactly went wrong?
Shocking, never-before-seen footage and riveting interviews with trainers and experts manifest the orca’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity over the last four decades, and the growing disillusionment of workers who were misled and endangered by the highly profitable sea-park industry.
Blackfish premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2013, and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures for wider release
Running time: 82 minutes