Monday, July 12, 2010

The Cove (2009) - Dolphin Safe

On the Menu: THE COVE (2009)

Ingredients: Richard O'Barry, Joe Chisholm, Charles Hambleton, Simon Hutchins, Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, Kirk Krack and Louie Psihoyos. Directed by Louie Psihoyos. Run time: 92 minutes. Rated: PG-13.

At First Bite: I heard about this movie right before it came out on DVD, but put off watching it because of the subject matter. I find it appalling that an animal as intelligent as the dolphin would be slaughtered for no reason other than to misleadingly sell it as whale meat. Disgusting.

Activist Richard O'Barry trained most of the dolphins used on '60s TV series "Flipper." The show created major buzz around the animals, and eventually led to marine parks like Sea World. O'Barry believes one of the captive dolphins committed suicide in his arms. Since that moment, he has spent his life trying to save dolphins around the world.

Well, if ever there was a place that threatened the livelihood of dolphins, it was the National Park at Taiji, Wakayama in Japan. Reportedly, around 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed in Japan every year. At the cove in Taiji, the mammals are confused with sonar and herded into nets. Later, they're either sold to aquariums/parks or harpooned to death.

O'Barry teams up with former National Geographic photographer, Louie Psihoyos, and his crew in order to get video/photos of the slaughter. The Japanese locals aren't having any of it. Even the local police hassle the crew and follow them around to make sure they stay away from the cove.

How does the crew get the footage it needs?

They go ninja.

Tough to Swallow: The video of the killings is enough to make you sick. There's a scene with one dolphin that tries to get away, which is really sad.

And, the Japanese are even bribing other countries in the International Whaling Commission in order to get support. Unbelievable.

Psihoyos, who had been in Taiji two years, had footage from a 12-hour meeting with the Taiji mayor and heads of city council. City leaders told him they treat dolphins like their own relatives and believe they are ancestors. They also told him they kill the dolphins humanely. It would have been nice to have had some of this meeting included in the film because the town's officials have claimed they had no idea what the movie was about while the crew was filming. Not having a Japanese official on camera offering an explanation does make the film seem a little one-sided.

Second Helping: Watched the movie again with the audio commentary from Psihoyos and one of the film's producers, Fisher Stevens. It's a nice supplement because they talk of some things that have happened since the film's screening. 

Something to Chew On:  The film premiered April 25, 2009 at the Newport Beach International Film Festival in California.

This is the directorial debut of Louie Psihoyos.

Isabel Lucas and Hayden Panettiere have cameos.

Kernel Optical, which was formerly part of George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic, provided rock sculptures to help camouflage HD cameras.

THE COVE won the Audience Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and then went on to take Best Documentary (Features) at the 2010 Academy Awards.

Broome, a coastal town in western Australia, decided to annul its sister-city relationship with Taiji on August 22, 2009. However, the Broome Shire Council reversed the decision on October 13, 2009. The two cities have been sister cities since 1981.

The town of Taiji has the moniker "Whale Town." The government allows for about 19,000 dolphins to be killed each year; Taiji kills about 2,000 annually for meat.

Taiji has been hunting whales and dolphins since the early 1600s. Residents refuse to end the tradition and see the film as foreign bias toward their culture.

Numerous screenings of THE COVE have been canceled in Japan.

In a study done by Tetsuya Endo, a professor at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, it was found that Taiji residents have 10 times the normal level of mercury in their system than the average Japanese person. However, another study, conducted by Endo, showed the highest mercury levels in dolphin and whale meat were in Okinawa not Taiji.

There's a scene after the credits involving the local police and the film crew's whale blimp.

The film currently has an 8.6 user rating on (7,916 votes).

Really? 7,916 is a ridiculously low number for such a compelling film.

Sides: The DVD includes audio commentary from Psihoyos and producer Fisher Stevens. Yes, the Fisher Stevens from SHORT CIRCUIT and MY SCIENCE PROJECT, which I recently reviewed.

The entirety of the "Special Ops Cameras" featurette runs about 9 minutes, and it's broken down into 5 sections for each special camera: Nest Cam, Thermal Cam, Rock Cams, Helicopter Cam and Blood Cam.

The "Freediving" feature is about 5 minutes long and shows Cruickshank and Krack swimming around with fish and dolphins. Krack blows some underwater bubble rings (think smoke rings).

A feature called "The Cove: Mercury Rising" warns about the mercury levels in fish, and the harmful effects of mercury. Its run time is about 18 and a half minutes.

The DVD also includes 3 deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.

Aftertaste: I understand the dolphin kill is a tradition in Taiji, but it is pretty barbaric and ultimately pointless. Dolphin isn't a major menu item, so where does all the meat from 23,000 dead dolphins go? It's labeled as whale meat.

Respect for other cultures is a big issue, sure. But, the film claims, because of the mislabeling, most of the Japanese people don't even know they're eating dolphin meat. Heck, according to Psihoyos, 90 of the 100 Japanese people they interviewed on the streets couldn't believe dolphins were being killed for food. To me, you can't really base a tradition on a lie.

Now, I know a lot of the meat we eat in our own country makes its way to us by horrific means. I've read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and I've watched BLOOD OF THE BEASTS and FOOD, INC. I know how ugly it was and can be.

So as an omnivore, I guess I'm being hypocritical in my judgment of the people of Taiji. I eat cow, pig, chicken, turkey and certain fish. Who am I to tell them what not to eat? Is there a Bollywood film that points out the horrible treatment and massive slaughter of cows in the U.S.?

The biggest problems I have with the slaughter are the method of the killing, plus the notion dolphins are possibly the most intelligent non-human animals in existence (personally, I believe they are)

Perhaps, if aquariums would cease to purchase dolphins, then the number of those hunted/killed would decrease. You can swim with dolphins in the wild. There's no need to go to a dolphinarium.

Of course, things will change once dolphins become endangered. I hope it doesn't come to that.

The movie is pretty intense. It definitely plays out like a heist film with all the sneaking around, jumping fences, using hidden cameras, police surveillance, etc. The score is also amazing, at all times.

The killings aren't a secret anymore thanks to THE COVE.
Make sure the movie isn't a secret. 


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