Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Cove

Posted as part of Operation 101010
Category: documentaries / In category: 10 of 10 / Overall: 87 of 100

There are some real annoyances about not having much money at the moment. It means I have to stick with the cheapest package from my DVD rental club (2 titles per month), additions to the collection haven’t been as plentiful as I’d like and cinema-going has dropped to an all-time low. It also means that I don’t have the wherewithal to, say, hop on a plane to Japan, catch a train to the coastal community of Taiji, buy a baseball bat and pound the everloving shit out of the first fisherman I come across.

Whoa! I hear you say. What’s with Neil the psycho boy? Why the anti-fisherman diatribe? It’s not like you’ve never had a fish ‘n’ chip supper before!

Ah, well. The fishermen of Taiji do things a little bit differently. They’re not after cod, haddock, plaice or anything else you’d dip in batter and deep fry. No, these boys are after dolphins. A dolphin’s main sensory function is sonic. So when the dolphin run passes Taiji between September and March, the boats come out, metal poles are lowered into the water and our non-RSPCA approved fisherfolk bang on them with hammers. This panics the dolphins, who are then driven towards shore and corralled off by huge nets in a cove hidden from view of the mainland.

Dolphin trainers from aquaria (is that the plural of aquarium?) turn up and take the pick of the bunch, a live dolphin selling for up to $150,000. What happens to dolphins who don’t make the cut for Seaworld is pretty fucking unpleasant.

‘The Cove’ is about one man’s crusade to take these motherfuckers down. A man driven by guilt and tirelessly working to reverse the very thing he was once complicit in. Which kind of makes it sound like kick-ass thriller with a maverick anti-hero straight out of the Screenwriting 101 character motivation module.

Meet Ric O’Barry, our man of the moment. In the 1960s, O’Barry captured and trained the five female bottlenose dolphins who collectively played Flipper in the absurdly popular TV show. The whole Seaworld, dolphin acrobatics, swimming with dolphins, aww-aren’t-they-cute, let’s all whistle and clap and holler and cheer (not a good environment for a dolphin, sonically speaking) followed in short order. A multi-million dollar dolphin industry came into being.

O’Barry’s epiphany came the day Cathy, one of the Flipper quintet, committed suicide. You read that right. A dolphin is capable of voluntarily ending its own life. O’Barry abandoned the capture and training of dolphins and has since worked tireless to free captive dolphins, to campaign for them and to raise public consciousness. He has been arrested countless times (when director Louie Psihoyos queries how many times he’s been nicked, O’Barry’s reply of “This year?” is answer enough) and banned from attending IWC (International Whaling Committee) conferences.

Responding to O’Barry’s campaign against the Taiji fishermen – and seeing how a peaceful protest lead by surfers (including celebrity animal rights campaigners Hayden Panettiere and Isabel Lucas) was disrupted heavy-handedly and culminated in arrest and deportation – Psihoyos, the co-founder of the Oceanic Protection Society, realizes that a more dramatic and clandestine approach is required to expose the slaughter. He puts together a team of experts, including freedivers, technical wizards adept at rigging up hidden cameras and a mate with military experience (useful when you’re basically pulling black ops style missions). What follows is so urgent and intense you could easily forget you’re watching a documentary. ‘The Cove’ is more nerve-wracking than most mainstream thrillers.

O’Barry, Psihoyos and their team are followed and harassed. O’Barry is the subject of constant police scrutiny. The two occasions they infiltrate the cove to plant audio visual equipment are against-the-clock missions, outwitting guards and the authorities. The footage they get as a result is horrifying.

With Japan continually battling against the IWC’s anti-whaling stance and buying the support of smaller countries (shame on you, Domenica, Antigua and St Lucia) to influence voting, O’Barry bucks the IWC ban and crashes a conference as he goes public with the footage.

The film ends with a handful of small victories (various public officials being removed from office as a result of the exposé), however the slaughter is still ongoing. O’Barry is committed to continuing the fight. Psihoyos ends the film with a call for support. He has mine. Go to these sites for more information:

Finally, a selection of unpleasant images from the footage secretly captured in the cove. The colour of the water tells you all you need to know.


Jordan Ruimy said...

This made my ten best list last year, a complete and unexpectedly entertaining surprise.

Neil Fulwood said...

Agreed: I was prepared to get angry after seeing this documentary (which I did), but I wasn't prepared for it to be so pacy and, for want of a better word, exciting.