New Film: Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s “Blackfish”


Blackfish, the new documentary film by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, has been described as “a mesmerizing psychological thriller with a killer whale at its centre.” In its description for the documentary’s premiere in England and Ireland, the British press writes, “Blackfish is the first film since Grizzly Man to show how nature can get revenge on man when pushed to its limits.”

David Kirby, author of the 2012 book Death at Sea World [see previous post New Book: David Kirby’s “Death at Sea World”] writes that the film’s director and his paths crossed often, “in Florida—home of Shamu—and the Pacific Northwest, where ‘real’ orcas live” and where they were both conducting research for their respective works. About the film, he says, “By all accounts, she and producer Manny Oteyza have created a powerful and stirring narrative on the potential hazards of keeping killer whales captivity—to humans and the amazing animals themselves.”

Recently screened at Sundance, the film will air in the US select theaters on theaters on July 19 and in the UK on July 26, 2013. In “’Blackfish’: A chilling doc on captive killer whales,” CNN’s Breeanna Hare says: “It was one of the hottest films out of Sundance, but Blackfish will leave you with chills.” She continues:

The nearly 90-minute documentary tells the story of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed in 2010 when the killer whale Tilikum grabbed her and yanked her underwater. The exclusive clip above depicts another trainer getting her arm broken by a whale. “I became interested in this project when I found out about the death of Brancheau,” filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite said. “I was very confused by that story, because I didn’t understand why a killer whale who was a very highly intelligent animal would have made a decision to kill a trainer that was actively feeding it.” The result of Cowperthwaite’s curiosity is a film that raises a number of questions, not the least of which being whether killer whales have any place in theme parks.

Critics have praised “Blackfish” for being an “emotionally powerful” and “mesmerizing psychological thriller” that could double as a teaching tool. The documentary arrives in select theaters on July 19, and it will also air on CNN as part of CNN Films on October 24 at 9 p.m. ET.

To unravel what happened between the 12,000 pound Tilikum and Brancheau, Cowperthwaite also takes us through the 39-year history of orcas in captivity. Although Brancheau’s story is at the heart of the film, “Blackfish” also shows more generally the dangers of working with orcas and their majestic beauty and intelligence. “For anyone who has ever questioned the humaneness of keeping wild animals in captivity and training them to perform tricks for food, this will be trenchant, often harrowing stuff,” The Hollywood Reporter said in its Sundance review. “Perhaps even more so for those who have never considered the issue.”

For full article, see

For David Kirby’s full article (and photo above by John Warden, Getty Images), see

See British premiere announcement at

Also see

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