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Film Spotlight: Blackfish

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Blackfish, a documentary about Tilikum, a killer whale that attacks its trainer, opens with the gripping 911 call that was placed after the incident took place at Sea World in Orland in 2010. That sets the tone for this terrific film that examines the world of training the huge creatures. The incident, we learn, is just one of many involving a trainer and a killer whale. The film compiles some amazing footage of trainers getting attacked or dragged underwater by Orca whales. But, as filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite makes clear, it's not the whale's fault.

As the film begins, we hear testimonies from trainers who are in awe of the creatures. "Just seeing a killer whale is breathtaking," says one trainer. "It was just inspiring and amazing," says another. So how did the whale turn on its trainer?

The filmmakers take us back to Puget Sound in 1970 where Tilikum was initially captured. The whale is transported to British Columbia where trainers abuse it and keep it confined in a small dark pool at night. One former trainer talks about how uncomfortable it was to lock the whale in what is essentially a cage every night. When its home park closes down after an incident in which a fan is attacked, Tilikum is shipped off to Orlando, ostensibly for breeding purposes. Cowperthwaite documents the creature's mistreatment leading up to the incident and uncovers footage of its erratic behavior that day.

If anyone is to blame for the attacks, it's Sea World. But Sea World repeatedly declined to be interviewed for the film, so we never hear its side of the story. Because the film so carefully documents its defense of the numerous lawsuits filed against it, the lack of a first-hand testimony from a Sea World rep doesn't diminish the film in any way. It's a terrific documentary.

The movie opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre. — Jeff Niesel

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