“…should make even the most hardened viewer think twice before planning their next Florida vacation.”

I am fortunate enough to live in a coastal town. As a resident, I felt overwhelmed to give back to the community. Years ago, I joined a marine mammal rescue organization that tends to sick and injured animals that happen upon our local coastline. I have been alongside a 30-foot right whale in the wild, have tended to countless other species and have had to bury more than I care to.

I mention this merely to give perspective when I sat down to review Blackfish, a documentary of the imprisoned killer whales at Sea World, in particular, one whale named Tilikum that lashed out at a “trainer” years ago.

Do you recall the first time you saw Jaws? If you were younger in first viewing, do you recall the sheer terror you felt when you feared for the lives of the main character? Well, reverse that allegiance to the ocean-dwelling creature and, sadly add the element of real-life, and you have about a fraction of the emotion that was felt enduring a screening of Blackfish.

Directed by
Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Tilikum, Dave Duffus, Samantha Berg
Release Date
Rob’s Grade: A-

I use the verb “enduring” in the best possible way, as it is most certainly an uncomfortable –yet important — film to get through. The utter rage, disgust and heartbreak experienced in its runtime was something that is physically exhausting.

This is not to say that it is some melodramatic piece that just plays clips of Free Willy to induce sympathy. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite methodically builds the case that the systemic abuse endured by these captive creatures is enough to make any feeling being snap. Cobbled together news accounts, firsthand interviews with former trainers, amateur spectator footage (and conspicuously absent any representative of Sea World) make the majority of this documentary. It does come spliced with commercials of prepackaged family fun peddled by Sea World, which paints a rosier picture for the public.

Part expose into the trade of orcas for for-profit amusement and part crime scene investigation into the injuries and deaths of multiple employees, Blackfish makes a strong case that after years of imprisonment, systemic abuse, separation of family, and stripping away of ordinary life, any creature could react with rebellion.

Cowperthwaite gathers former trainers (though none were required to possess a scientific degree in marine mammals and some merely jumped into tanks with them their first day), scientists who discuss the actual behavior of the species, often at odds with the “facts” provided by Sea World, and courtroom testimony of the park’s owners and managers that is nothing short of damning.

The result is a moving, stirring documentary of greed, slavery (many may say that is a powerful word choice, but just because they lack opposable thumbs by no means are they mentally or emotionally inferior) and hubris that should make even the most hardened viewer think twice before planning their next Florida vacation.

Review by Rob Rector, Lead Entertainment Writer

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