Culture & Entertainment

No Academy Award nomination for 'Blackfish'

Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

No Academy Award nomination for 'Blackfish'

Blackfish Documentary The Academy Award nominations were announced on January 16, 2014. Sadly, Blackfish was not on the list for Best Documentary, despite having been nominated for a EE British Academy Film Award (BAFTA) just days earlier. I watched the doc a couple of nights ago and loved it. Make it your next iTunes rental—you won’t regret it. From where I’m standing, an Oscar snub seems like a glaring omission—the 80-minute film is not only excellent, it’s been a substantial commercial success. Blackfish follows Tilikum, a 12,000-pound bull killer whale who has killed three people while in captivity, and despite that, continues to perform at SeaWorld Orlando. Director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite was inspired by a Tim Zimmermann article for Outside magazine focused on the death of Dawn Brancheau, the SeaWorld trainer who was killed by the whale in 2010 at SeaWorld Orlando. Through archival footage and expert interviews from former SeaWorld trainers we understand that Tilikum deliberately attacked his trainer, and that the attack was brutal—not a drowning by pony tail or a case of trainer error as was splashed around to the media by SeaWorld big wigs at the time. Cowperthwaite doesn’t pull any punches—the film clearly condemns SeaWorld for its whale program and sheds light on the substandard quality of life of captive whales. The documentary challenges us to see orcas, and the extraordinary intelligent and emotional creatures they are, in a more accurate light. There are heartrending moments—sea parks that wrest calves away from their mothers (in the wild, mothers and calves stay together for life), training based on food deprivation, whales that are kept in what amounts to a steel bathtub for two thirds of their lives, whales from different pods that violently attack each other and heartbroken trainers who witness the decline of the whales they have loved and with whom they have profoundly bonded. Most significantly,  Blackfish illustrates the extraordinary dangers that frustrated, captive whales pose to trainers—something SeaWorld would rather the public (and the trainers, for that matter) be oblivious to. SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. (SEAS) has responded to Blackfish with open letters to film critics, full-page ads in newspapers and a killer whale float at the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. The corporation has also also launched a webpage called “ Truth About Blackfish,” suggesting that the documentary is nothing more than activist propaganda, outlining six arguments against the film. (Cowperthwaite has methodically addressed each argument on the Blackfish website.) As I watched the doc, I experienced a film anchored by fact—archival footage of past sea park attacks, transcripts from the court cases, expert interviews with former SeaWorld trainers and good information from whale researchers who have a deep respect for whales. The film never told me what to think—I came to my own conclusions. Blackfish’s impact has prompted celebrities to speak out against marine parks. Recently artists such as Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride, amongst others, have pulled out of performances scheduled for SeaWorld Orlando. Interestingly, SeaWorld shares rose 8.4 percent after Blackfish did not receive an Academy Award nomination. Despite being snubbed at the Oscars, the documentary continues to bring attention to an important debate: should whales be kept in captivity? Watch the documentary and decide for yourself. Photo courtesy of blackfishmovie.com
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No Academy Award nomination for 'Blackfish'

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