Who doesn’t love dolphins? And who doesn’t love spy thrillers? Well, documentary “The Cove” combines both in a bloody, moving piece about annual dolphin hunting in Taiji; what could be wrong with that?
I have become more and more disgusted with documentaries lately. Similar to “Waiting for Superman”, “The Cove” presents its case through heart-wrenching footage of dolphin slaughter, juxtaposed with cute shots from TV-show “Flipper!” – it is a masterful work of propaganda, and it is so one-sided that I am hesitant to trust any of it.
Ric O’Barry was the man who captured and trained the dolphins who starred in “Flipper” – he blames himself for starting the dolphin-fad that has since resulted in the capture and killing of thousands of dolphins. He has been arrested countless times, banned from conferences, and is now a full-time activist against dolphin-captivity. He is eccentric, driving around Japan fully masked so as not to attract attention of authorities, who all know who he is and what trouble he brings.
O’Barry, along with director Louie Psihoyos, gather what they call an “Ocean’s Eleven Team” of volunteers, including champion free-diver Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, kids from “Surfers for Cetaceans” (includes Hayden Panettiere who cries when they get arrested), and professional camouflage artists to hide high definition cameras in rocks, to get hidden footage. Using heat-sensitive cameras, and going to the cove in the dead of the night black ops style, the documentary momentarily transforms into a Mission Impossible styled film, with the divers running for their lives when fishermen show up with flashlights.
The film portrays locals quite negatively – there is one specific man referred to only as Private Space because “those are the only words he knows in English”; fishermen are shown harassing the cameramen and blocking filming with signs, hats, and their bodies. The film makers are smart enough to cast blame onto the government however, casting these fishermen as “misinformed” and “lied to” – they instead focus on politicians at International Whaling Commission meetings. The director is intelligent; he knows that an audience is hesitant to blame regular people, and so even goes so far as to interview people on the streets of Tokyo, who claim to know nothing about the dolphin catching activities at Taiji, nothing about the toxic mercury levels in dolphin meat, which are going into schoolchildren’s’ lunches. The film portrays the activities as a conspiracy, with a complex cover-up.
I’m not saying we should kill dolphins; everyone loves dolphins – they are intelligent, interactive, and cute! To be fair, there was a great deal of unexpected and applaudable cooperation in this movie – people were brought together, united by a common cause. At one point, one member of the team set up some DNA analysis equipment in a hotel room; pretty snazzy. But everything was over-exaggerated, there was so much hand-holding, as if the audience couldn’t make their own decisions and opinions. When a Japanese magazine and news show accused crewmembers of antagonizing locals in order to get good, angry shots, Psihoyos immediately claimed these were due to fear of profit compromise. Since acquiring the footage, O’Barry has walked around with a TV taped to his chest on several occasions – he even entered a conference on the whaling industry and was immediately escorted out by security; at the Academy Awards, he even had a banner that said “Text DOLPHIN to 44144”. (What is it with texting as the new thing?)
Despite controversy surrounding the portrayal of Japanese officials, “The Cove” did screen in Japan. And of course, it screened to great success in the US, snagging the Sundance Audience Award, as well as the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
You can watch it on Netflix or read the script here (http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/c/the-cove-script-transcript-documentary.html) and decide for yourself.