BlackfishThe Q Filmcast guys did Marwencol this week. It tells the story of artist Mark Hogancamp. It sounds really good and I expect that I will watch it at some point. However, it did not seem like a very good choice with my continuing depressive period. But at the end of the show, they did another of their “top three” lists. This one was, “Top 3 Documentaries that SHOULD be Motion Pictures.” Am I allowed to be a pedant and point out that documentaries are motion pictures? No?! Well then, I won’t mention it.

Michael, who is the smartest of the bunch (he gave The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra the highest rating), was nice enough to give me a shout out, listing my top three: Nanook of the North (one of the Q guys is right though: its only kind of a documentary), The Cats of Mirikitani, and Exit Through the Gift Shop. The whole segment was very funny, because one of them apparently has never seen a documentary, so he read some descriptions online and proposed them. Overall, I think the guys missed the mark. I think there are two issues. First, would the documentary really make a good narrative film? In most cases, no. Second, is the documentary already so good that it doesn’t need to be made into an a narrative film. I think Harlan County, USA falls into this category.

But one of the films mentioned (by Max, I think) really caught my attention: Blackfish, a documentary about a SeaWorld Ocra who has been involved in the deaths of a number of people. So, because I’m a total idiot, I watched it. As I said: continuing depressive period. I’ll get to it in a moment. But it would make a terrible narrative film. At best it would be something like Without Limits; at worst, well, Orca.

Blackfish is a fantastic documentary. It is also a sob fest. My heart was broken in equal parts by the treatment of the whales and the injuries and deaths of the idealistic trainers. SeaWorld management are the bad guys, but they are more implicit to the film than anything. The closest the film comes to them is one former trainer who thinks that the whales could be kept in captivity, but that no one is doing it.

The Orca are amazing animals. I’ve told the story before about one who apparently gets annoyed with a Great White shark and so drowns it and then eats its liver. There are also broadly speaking two cultures of Orca: resident and transient. The residents get along fine with dolphins, seals, and sea lions. The transients see them as prey. Anyway, they are amazing and beautiful creatures.

The film starts with an Orca hunt four decades ago. It’s horrible to watch. Most of the story is told by a man who took part who is clearly scarred to this day. Basically, they corral a pod and then kidnap their young (because they can be more easily shipped). The remaining family members hang around, calling out to their children. It’s horrifying. And that sets the tone for the film. It all comes back when a mother and child born in captivity were separated. It reminded me very much of chattel slavery we practiced in his country until 150 years ago. It’s all about money. There was no room for human dignity then; none for Orca dignity today.

There is a lot of emotional content in Blackfish. I jumped out of my seat a couple of times. But there is also a lot of information. For example, despite the claims of SeaWorld, Orca in the wild live to be about 50 on average in the wild. But they can live to be 90 years old. In captivity, they usually die by the age of 25. The film put me through the wringer, but I can’t recommend it more highly.

Also: never go to SeaWorld or any other similar place.

5 thoughts on “Blackfish

  1. Want a cheer-me-up? Check out "Buck," available on Netflix streaming. A guy who was horribly abused as a child is now a horse trainer who believes in not abusing horses, and gets excellent results with his kind methods. That’s a very happy documentary.

  2. @JMF – Thanks for the rec. I think that [i]Marwencol[/i] is probably okay too. But right now, I’m going back watching [i]Planet Earth[/i]. It is so great!

  3. Frank,sorry you’re depressed. Just know that your due a BIG Q HUG! We’re there for you… I like your standard for brilliance, how highly you rated Cadavra! I’m a genius. Thanks for the write up – something tells me a documentary about the life and times of Franklycurious would be riveting! James can play you in it!

  4. @Michael – Depression is a necessary prelude to ecstasy… I’ll start working on that screenplay. It reminds me of an old Cheech & Chong routine, "The Jackson 5 Story, starring The Osmonds." It could be: The Frankly Curious Story, starring the Q Filmcast!

  5. Not much point in commenting on old articles… but I’ve been reading a bunch here lately, and as a film geek first/foremost, this sticks out: why, dear God why, turn a great documentary film into a awful Hollywood film? This was actually done with “Marwencol.” The director, Robert Zemeckis, also turned another beautiful documentary, “Man On Wire,” into sludge big-bugdet product.

    “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is essentially directed by Banksy, and he made it EXACTLY the way he wanted it, as he does all his work. I doubt he’d part with the rights for more than a bazillion dollars.

    Since Zemeckis likes buying ideas, how about “A Thin Blue Line”? It’s a mystery, everyone likes those. Or he could rip off Carl Sagan. Oh, wait, he sorta did that, too.

    And the thing is, Zemeckis is a gifted filmmaker with a good eye for image composition — not one of the greats, but he’s solid. He made the “Back To The Future” movies, he’s rolling in dough. If he doesn’t have new writing ideas, that’s fine. Read a bunch of unmade screenplays! Find one that interests you! Film that!

    It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this isn’t what he did with “Castaway,” which was a much bigger financial success than those other films.

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