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