Tim Laman and Edwin Scholes have spent nearly a decade documenting the 39 species of birds of paradise that live in Papua New Guinea. The birds — which are both gorgeous and silly — prove to be elusive prey for the cameras of Laman and Scholes, but, as usual, the adventure is as much about the journey as it is the destination.
The more commonly known name for a blackfish became horribly prescient one February day in 2010 when a killer whale at SeaWorld in Florida, named Tilikum, took the life of one of his trainers. The sensational story made a media flash with pundits questioning the safety of keeping these massive, sentient animals in captivity. Even TMZ picked up the story when Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee wrote a scathing and scatalogically detailed letter, including the call to action: “I hope it doesn't take another tragic death for SeaWorld to realize it shouldn't frustrate these smart animals by keeping them in tanks.” But since the media frenzy subsided, little has changed. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s perceptive documentary introduces Tilikum, not as a cold-blooded killer, but as a misunderstood and mistreated gentle giant, taken from his mother in the waters of Iceland and shipped halfway around the world to live life in a glorified bathtub. Tilikum’s tale is not a simple one, and Cowperthwaite teases out lines of inquiry into science and the psychology of a species that is only beginning to be explored. Blackfish tells the story of a culture clash between mankind and an arguably more intelligent, intuitive being: one we call “killer” but who has never taken a human life in the wild — only in forced captivity.