BLACKFISH, the documentary, started with a question — a feeling of something “not being right” — surrounding the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by an orca during a performance in 2010:
I remember asking someone why an orca — a highly intelligent animal — would attack its trainer or essentially ‘bite the hand that feeds it.’
We sometimes hear of dogs mauling other people, but in these cases we don’t seem to hear about them attacking their masters. So why would America’s lovable Shamu turn against us? How could our entire collective childhood memories of this delightful water park be so morbidly wrong?
I came in with these questions. I set out to understand this incident, not as an animal activist — because I’m not one — but as a mother who had just taken her kids to SeaWorld, and of course as a documentary filmmaker who unfortunately can’t let sleeping dogs lie.
After receiving funding, Cowperthwaite and her team set out to tell this story of an incident at SeaWorld:
I knew immediately that I wanted SeaWorld to have a voice in the film. We e-mailed back and forth for about six months. I gave them every chance to talk, but they eventually declined. At that point, however, I had already began peeling back the onion. And my journey of shock and discovery was well underway.
I have made television documentaries for 15 years, but “Blackfish” is my second feature documentary and my first one to have found theatrical distribution. I can’t say this was an easy film to make. There were nightmares, too many autopsy reports, sobbing interviewees and unhappy animals.
And I was scared. SeaWorld is a $2 billion a year entity, and they’ll do anything to protect their greatest asset: Shamu. But as I moved forward I knew that in telling this story in an honest and fact-driven way, I was telling the truth. It sounds cliché but it’s really that simple. At some point you’re simply compelled, in spite of yourself, to tell a story that needs to be told no matter how scared you are of an entity that could squash you.
Blackfish illuminates how the orca, an extremely intelligent, familial and social animal, is simply not suited for captivity. It also shows how any endeavors by humans to confine these majestic, friendly giants for profit is categorically inhumane. SeaWorld has been operating under a web of lies and cover-ups.
- Read the original Outside article that inspired Blackfish director Coperwaite to make the film here.
- Blackfish is available for purchase on iTunes and will be available to rent on November 12, 2013: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/blackfish/id727472242
Amy Senger is an L.A. transplant by way of Washington, DC, and co-founder of 1X57, named to Washingtonian’s Tech Titans list with her partner Steven Mandzik. Follow her on twitter @sengseng and follow the Pacific Punch @ThePacificPunch or email amy@1×57.com.