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  • Nov 3-5

Keiko — The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy

In this film, fans of the inter­na­tion­al icon Keiko learn what hap­pened when the Free Willy star became the first and only cap­tive orca to be released back into the wild. Torn from his fam­i­ly at the ten­der age of two, Keiko spent 14 years in cap­tiv­i­ty as a per­form­ing tourist attrac­tion before Hol­ly­wood dis­cov­ered him for the title role in the 1993 block­buster movie, Free Willy. When his mil­lions of fans real­ized that Keiko was not free like his on-screen char­ac­ter, a cru­sade was launched to save him. The deci­sion was ulti­mate­ly made to return Keiko to his native waters off Ice­land. After spend­ing two years in Ore­gon regain­ing his health, he was air­lift­ed to Ice­land in the fall of 1998, and lived his last years in free­dom.  But until now, exact­ly what hap­pened after he went back to his native waters has nev­er been revealed.

Four years in the mak­ing, this com­pelling doc­u­men­tary by film­mak­er There­sa Demarest fol­lows Keiko from the time it was decid­ed to move him from unac­cept­able liv­ing con­di­tions at an amuse­ment park in Mex­i­co City to his return to Ice­land.  The film con­tains nev­er before seen footage of Keiko in the wild, along with exclu­sive accounts of his day-to-day exis­tence by Keiko’s last two care­tak­ers, Col­in Baird and Thor­b­jorg (Tob­ba) Vald­is Krist­jans­dot­tir. Along the way, the film pro­vides insight into the unique cul­ture of orcas, includ­ing the impact that being tak­en from his pod had on Keiko.

More than a decade after Keiko’s death in 2003 from pneu­mo­nia, many peo­ple are still debat­ing whether the whale’s return to the wild was a suc­cess. Even though he was tech­ni­cal­ly “free,” Keiko con­tin­ued to rely on humans and was nev­er reunit­ed with his fam­i­ly. The film leaves it to the view­ers to decide for them­selves whether or not the mis­sion was ulti­mate­ly suc­cess­ful, and this ques­tion con­tin­ues to frame the debate regard­ing the fate of the oth­er 42 orcas still held in cap­tiv­i­ty around the world.

Run­ning time: 1 hour 15 min­utes