My classic film of the week is not an old movie.
In fact, it was released in 2009, but with “Blackfish” (2013) - the much-talked about documentary focusing on the repercussions of keeping a particular orca in captivity - playing in movie theatres, let’s look back at the devastating, but also important, classic Oscar-winning documentary, “The Cove”.
In this gut-wrenching film - which won the 2009 Best Documentary Oscar - Psihoyos, from halfway around the world, does legally and/or illegally capture quite a story.
In the coastal town of Taiji, Japan, fisherman are slaughtering a staggering number of dolphins (23,000) each year, and due to the natural camouflage of a specific hidden cove, this practice has gone on - and hidden from public view - for years and years.
On the other hand, dolphin experts like famed trainer Ric O’Barry - from the “Flipper” television series - know the massacre is occurring, but proof is needed in order to expose it.
Hence, Psihoyos pulls together a team - including military personnel, deep sea divers and special effects experts - to capture actual sound and video of what’s happening in this cove.
The movie plays out two different themes, and both of them equally fascinate.
The first is the aforementioned cove mission, and due to the secrecy of the dolphin slaughter and the local fishermen’s (sometimes physical) opposition of the “cove activities” from becoming public, the team needs to move about Taiji like secret agents.
At first, O’Barry seems like a paranoid crazy person.
While driving around, he wears a mask and speaks of police and random ruffians following him, but Psihoyos and the others soon realize, O’Barry isn’t crazy.
He is exactly right, and the film turns into a real psychological thriller.
As Psihoyos’s team attempts to drop cameras and sound equipment pointing at the cove, groups of either police, fisherman, or “who knows who” are dangerously close to exposing their mission, and the film packs plenty of hold-your-breath moments.
The movie’s second theme covers O’Barry’s overall crusade to stop the dolphin killing and, in a very surprising revelation, halt the practice of keeping dolphins in captivity for shows (like SeaWorld) and/or petting zoos.
Since O’Barry trained dolphins for years during the “Flipper” series, we don’t expect he would flip (pardon the pun) 180 degrees to stop the very industry he helped create.
O’Barry states his reasons and provides a movie moment which really gives the audience a shocking and sudden pause.
This O’Barry confessional isn’t the only time the film stops us in our tracks, because the documentary presents two other scenes which completely rip at your heart.
I originally experienced this film in a crowded theatre in 2009, and I’ve never heard such a collective sobbing in a movie house as I did during these two painfully sad scenes.
“The Cove” is an eye-opening achievement and is impossible to shake.
Unfortunately, whenever I mention this documentary to a friend, co-worker or family member, I often hear back, “I can’t watch a movie like that. I don’t want to be upset.”
I didn’t want to be upset either, but I consider myself incredibly fortunate to see this documentary.
You should see it too.
I know I’ll never attend another dolphin show again.
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