Blackfish (film)

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Blackfish
Black-and-white picture of an orca (killer whale) with the title Blackfish and credits underneath
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGabriela Cowperthwaite
Produced byManuel V. Oteyza
Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Written byGabriela Cowperthwaite
Eli Despres
Tim Zimmermann
Music byJeff Beal
CinematographyJonathan Ingalls
Christopher Towey
Edited byEli Despres
Production
company
CNN Films
Manny O. Productions
Distributed byMagnolia Pictures
Release dates
  • January 19, 2013 (2013-01-19) (Sundance)
  • July 19, 2013 (2013-07-19) (United States)
Running time83 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$2,073,582
 
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Blackfish
Black-and-white picture of an orca (killer whale) with the title Blackfish and credits underneath
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGabriela Cowperthwaite
Produced byManuel V. Oteyza
Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Written byGabriela Cowperthwaite
Eli Despres
Tim Zimmermann
Music byJeff Beal
CinematographyJonathan Ingalls
Christopher Towey
Edited byEli Despres
Production
company
CNN Films
Manny O. Productions
Distributed byMagnolia Pictures
Release dates
  • January 19, 2013 (2013-01-19) (Sundance)
  • July 19, 2013 (2013-07-19) (United States)
Running time83 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$2,073,582

Blackfish is a 2013 documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2013, and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films for wider release.

Blackfish focuses on Tilikum, an orca held by SeaWorld, and the controversy over captive killer whales.

Synopsis[edit]

The documentary[1] focuses on the captivity of Tilikum, an orca involved in the deaths of three individuals, and the consequences of keeping orcas in captivity. The coverage of Tilikum includes his capture in 1983 off the coast of Iceland, purported harassment by fellow captive orcas at Sealand of the Pacific, incidents that Cowperthwaite argues contributed to the orca's aggression and includes testimonial from Lori Marino, Director of Science with Nonhuman Rights Project. Cowperthwaite also focuses on SeaWorld's claims that lifespans of orcas in captivity are comparable to those in the wild,[2] typically 30 years for males and 50 years for females,[3] a claim the film argues is false.[4] Interview subjects also include former SeaWorld trainers, such as John Hargrove, who describe their experiences with Tilikum and other captive whales.

Development[edit]

Cowperthwaite began work on the film after the 2010 death of Tilikum's trainer Dawn Brancheau and in response to the claim that the orca had targeted the trainer because she had worn her hair in a ponytail.[5] Cowperthwaite argued that this claim had been conjecture and that "there had to be more to this story".[5]

The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2013, and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films for wider release.[4]

Reception[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

The review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes said 98% of 94 critics gave the film a positive review, with the site's consensus stating, "Blackfish is an aggressive, impassioned documentary that will change the way you look at performance killer whales."[6] The Deseret News called it "a gripping example of documentary filmmaking at its finest".[7] At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 83 based on 33 reviews.[8]

Box office[edit]

In release for 14 weeks, the film earned $2,073,582 at the North American domestic box office.[9]

Response from trainers[edit]

After the film's release, former SeaWorld trainer Bridgette Pirtle said the final film was "a complete ‘180’ from what was originally presented to me."[10] In earlier statements, Pirtle praised the film's direction and supported its message.[11] Mark Simmons, one of Tilikum's first trainers, believed few of his interview comments were used "[b]ecause the things I said flew in the face of the movie’s clear agenda. What I contributed did not support Gabriela or Tim Zimmerman’s intent with the film."[12]

In January 2014, the family of the late trainer Dawn Brancheau said neither it nor the foundation named after her were affiliated with the film, and that they did not believe it accurately reflected Brancheau or her experiences.[13]

Response from SeaWorld[edit]

SeaWorld Entertainment refused to take part in the production of Blackfish, and later claimed the film was inaccurate,[14] saying in a statement:

Blackfish ... is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy .... [T]he film paints a distorted picture that withholds ...key facts about SeaWorld—among them...that SeaWorld rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year, and that SeaWorld commits millions of dollars annually to conservation and scientific research.[15]

SeaWorld responded further with an open letter rebutting the claims.[2] The Oceanic Preservation Society and The Orca Project, a non-profit focusing on orca in captivity, responded with open letters criticizing SeaWorld's claims.[16][17] Marine researcher Debbie Giles also offered rebuttals to SeaWorld, finding its assertions inaccurate.[18]

On December 31, the Orlando Business Journal posted a poll, asking if Blackfish had changed readers' opinions on SeaWorld. The majority of votes stated that the film had not. It was later found that 180 out of 328 votes (55%) originated from a single SeaWorld-hosted IP address.[19] SeaWorld defended the voting, stating that "each of the votes that came from a SeaWorld domain were cast by team members who are passionate about the incredible work SeaWorld does and the experiences our parks provide."[20]

SeaWorld also created a section of its website titled "Truth About Blackfish," addressing the claims stated above and highlighting what it considered other problems with the film:[21][22]

On February 27, 2014, SeaWorld filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, claiming the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigator who investigated Brancheau's death had behaved unethically by aiding the filmmakers. Cowperthwaite denied claims of improper collaboration.[23]

In March 2014, Cowperthwaite rebutted a number of claims on SeaWorld's website and challenged SeaWorld officials to a public debate.[24]

Impact[edit]

The ending to the upcoming animated film Finding Dory was revised after Pixar's John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton saw the film and spoke with director Gabriela Cowperthwaite. The depiction of a marine park in the film was altered.[25]

Reaction to the documentary prompted the bands and singers Heart, Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, .38 Special, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, The Beach Boys, Trace Adkins and Trisha Yearwood to cancel their concerts at the "Bands, Brew & BBQ" event at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa in 2014.[26][27][28][29]

SeaWorld announced afterward it had suffered a $15.9 million loss, which CEO James Atchison attributed in part to high ticket prices and poor weather.[30]

Overall attendance at SeaWorld parks and Busch Gardens declined by 5% in the first nine months of 2013, though it was unclear if the drop in attendance was due to the influence of the film.[23] SeaWorld claimed attendance figures for its three marine parks — Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio — in the last three months of 2013 were at record levels for that quarter.[31]

In response to the film, New York State Senator Greg Ball proposed legislation in New York that bans keeping orcas in captivity.[32] In March 2014, California State Assemblyman Richard Bloom introduced the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, a bill in California that would ban entertainment-driven killer whale captivity and retire all current whales.[33] In June 2014, US Congressmen Adam Schiff and Jared Huffman attached an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Act, requiring the USDA to update the Animal Welfare Act in regards to cetacean captivity. It passed with "unanimous bipartisan support."[34] The bill allocates 1 million USD to studying the impacts of captivity on marine mammals. Schiff cited Blackfish as raising public concern.[35]

After the release of Blackfish, Southwest Airlines came under increased pressure to end its 26-year relationship with SeaWorld.[36] Southwest responded that they were aware of concerns and were "engaged" with SeaWorld over them, but that the partnership would continue.[37] In July 2014, it was announced that the partnership would not be renewed. A press released stated that the break was mutual and based on "shifting priorities".[36] The petitioning by activists was cited as a possible factor for the split.[38][39]

In August 2014 the company announced that attendance and revenue were down about 1-2% for the second quarter of 2014 compared with the second quarter of 2013. Additionally, SeaWorld stock prices dropped by 33%.[40] The company attributed the decline to the proposed government legislation related to the documentary.[41] Later that month, the Rosen Law Firm PA announced an investigation into "potential securities claim" on behalf of SeaWorld investors.[42] According to the firm, SeaWorld "acknowledged for the first time the negative publicity may have had a hit and may have been why the attendance has been flat for now and the past quarters." The firm will investigate if SeaWorld was aware of the impact and "chose to downplay that as a reason for its performance results."[43]

In September 2014, the Rosen Law Firm filed a class action law suit. It alleges that SeaWorld "misled investors by claiming the decrease in attendance at its parks was caused by Easter holiday and other factors" rather than the release of Blackfish and improper practices.[44]

Home media[edit]

Blackfish was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on August 26, 2013 in the UK (Region 2, PAL).[citation needed] Its US release was on November 12, 2013.[citation needed]

The documentary was broadcast on CNN on October 24, 2013.[25] After the broadcast, CNN aired an Anderson Cooper special with Jack Hanna, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Naomi Rose and Jack Hurley. This was followed by a special edition of Crossfire with Blackfish associate producer Tim Zimmermann debating Grey Stafford, a conservationist, zoologist, and member of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association.

The documentary aired on BBC Four in the UK on November 21, 2013 as part of the Storyville documentary series.[45]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ French, Philip (July 27, 2013). "Blackfish – review". The Observer (UK). Retrieved March 9, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "SeaWorld: The Truth Is in Our Parks and People. An Open Letter from SeaWorld’s Animal Advocates". SeaWorld. Undated. Archived from the original on December 27, 2013. Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Killer Whale (Orcinus orca)". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Protected Fisheries. Archived from the original on February 10, 2014. Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Kaufman, Amy (January 25, 2013). "'Blackfish' has SeaWorld in hot water". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Kohn, Eric (January 26, 2013). "Sundance Interview: 'Blackfish' Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite Discusses Suffering Orcas, Trainer Death, and Why SeaWorld Hasn't Seen the Movie". IndieWire. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Blackfish". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 23, 2013. 
  7. ^ Peterson, Jeff (January 24, 2013). "Sundance review: 'Blackfish' is an alarming film". Deseret News. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  8. ^ Blackfish at Metacritic
  9. ^ "Blackfish (2013)". Box Office Mojo. October 24, 2013. Retrieved November 23, 2013. 
  10. ^ Davis, Eric (January 9, 2014). "Blackfish Exposed by Former SeaWorld Trainer". MiceChat.com. Retrieved January 13, 2014. 
  11. ^ Batt, Elizabeth (April 9, 2014). "Op-Ed: Sean Hannity's 'debate' on orca bill evolves into full-on bashing". Digital Journal. Retrieved August 20, 2014. 
  12. ^ Davis, Eric (January 13, 2014). "More Blackfish Backlash – Tilikum’s Trainer Dives In". MiceChat.com. Retrieved January 13, 2014. 
  13. ^ Garcia, Jason (January 21, 2014). "Family of Dawn Brancheau chastises 'Blackfish'". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved January 23, 2014. 
  14. ^ Pat Saperstein (July 18, 2013). "SeaWorld: Killer Whale Doc ‘Blackfish’ Is ‘Inaccurate’". Variety. Retrieved November 30, 2013. 
  15. ^ "SeaWorld responds to questions about captive orcas, 'Blackfish' film". CNN. October 21, 2013. Retrieved October 23, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Marine Mammal Captivity: The Truth Is in the Facts An Open Letter from the Informed American Public". Oceanic Preservation Society. Retrieved January 13, 2014. 
  17. ^ Costanzo, Amy. "An Open Letter BACK to SeaWorld". The Orca Project. Retrieved January 13, 2014. 
  18. ^ "SeaWorld Is So Pissed Over the Blackfish Documentary". Gawker.com. Retrieved January 13, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Something's fishy with this SeaWorld/'Blackfish' poll". Orlando Business Journal. January 2, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2014. 
  20. ^ "SeaWorld-Owned IP Address Linked To Majority Of Votes In Newspaper's 'Blackfish' Poll: Report". Huffington Post. January 3, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2014. 
  21. ^ Parker, Kolten (February 17, 2014). "SeaWorld posts videos in response to 'Blackfish' documentary". San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved February 19, 2014. 
  22. ^ SeaWorld.com "Truth About Blackfish". SeaWorld. Undated. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  23. ^ a b Cieply, Michael (February 27, 2014). "SeaWorld Questions Ethics of ‘Blackfish’ Investigator". The New York Times. Retrieved March 7, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Blackfish Director Challenges SeaWorld to Debate". EcoWatch. Retrieved March 7, 2014. 
  25. ^ a b Kaufman, Amy (August 9, 2013). "'Blackfish' gives Pixar second thoughts on 'Finding Dory' plot". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 9, 2013. 
  26. ^ Ahmed, Saeed (December 9, 2013). "Heart cancels SeaWorld show amid 'Blackfish' controversy". CNN. Retrieved December 27, 2013. 
  27. ^ Duke, Alan (December 16, 2013). "Martina McBride, 38 Special, cancel SeaWorld gig over 'Blackfish' backlash". CNN. Retrieved December 27, 2013. 
  28. ^ "Beach Boys, Benatar Cancel at Busch Gardens". The New York Times. Associated Press. January 16, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2014. 
  29. ^ Gibson, Megan (December 11, 2013). "The Documentary Blackfish Is Still Creating Waves at SeaWorld". Time. 
  30. ^ Stock, Kyle (August 29, 2013). "SeaWorld's Slump Raises a Question: Is Shamu Too Sad, or Too Expensive?". Bloomberg Businessweek. Archived from the original on October 5, 2013. 
  31. ^ Garcia, Jason (January 13, 2014). "Amid 'Blackfish' controversy, SeaWorld sets attendance record". Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on April 2, 2004. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  32. ^ "Sign The Petition To End The Torture". Nysenate.gov. Archived from the original on March 7, 2014. Retrieved March 7, 2014. 
  33. ^ Michael, Martinez (December 16, 2013). "California bill would ban orca shows at SeaWorld". CNN. Archived from the original on March 9, 2014. Retrieved March 7, 2014. 
  34. ^ "Reps. Schiff and Huffman Pass Amendment Directing USDA to Update Rules Protecting Captive Orcas and Other Marine Mammals". Congressman Adam Shiff. June 11, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2014. 
  35. ^ "After ‘Blackfish,’ SeaWorld hurt financially but keeps up political spending". The Washington Post. August 19, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2014. 
  36. ^ a b Stout, David (August 1, 2014). "So Long, Shamu: Southwest, SeaWorld End Ties". Time (magazine)l. Retrieved August 14, 2014. 
  37. ^ McInnis, Marilee (January 8, 2014). "Update on SeaWorld Partnership". Southwest Airlines. Retrieved August 14, 2014. 
  38. ^ Marlow, Ian (August 13, 2014). "SeaWorld shares dive as documentary spurs attendance drop". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved August 14, 2014. 
  39. ^ Solomon, Jesse (August 13, 2014). "SeaWorld stock gets soaked, plunges 33%". CNN. Retrieved August 14, 2014. 
  40. ^ Pedicini, Sandra, "SeaWorld stock tanks after low earnings", Orlando Sentinel, 13 August 2014
  41. ^ Roose, Kevin, "SeaWorld: Remember When We Said That Blackfish Movie Didn’t Hurt Us? Well, Never Mind", New York, 13 August 2014
  42. ^ "SeaWorld Entertainment Class Action Suit". Rosen Law Firm. August 18, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2014. 
  43. ^ "NY law firm explores class-action suit against SeaWorld". Orlando Business Journal. August 19, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2014. 
  44. ^ "EQUITY ALERT: The Rosen Law Firm Files Securities Class Action Against SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. -- SEAS". Market Watch. September 9, 2014. Retrieved September 10, 2014. 
  45. ^ "Storyville: Blackfish - The Whale That Killed". BBC. November 21, 2013. Archived from the original on January 29, 2014. Retrieved November 22, 2013. "The story of a killer whale who has taken the lives of several people while in captivity" 

External links[edit]