Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Cove

2009 Sundance Film Festival ★ ★ ★ ★
One of the often overlooked pleasures of Sundance is taking a flyer on an unknown and unpublicized movie and entering with no expectations. That’s how I stumbled into The Cove, a documentary about the dolphin market, which is centered in Japan.

Funded by internet billionaire Jim Clark (Netscape, Web MD) and helmed by veteran National Geographic photographer and first-time movie director Louie Psihoyos, The Cove is a multi-dimensional movie that defies a simple description (which may be its biggest weakness). We learn about the intelligence and beauty of dolphins. We are introduced to Richard O’Barry, the former trainer of Flipper, who is now an eco-activist who is committed to protecting dolphins around the world and returning them to the oceans. We are exposed to the center of the international market in Taiji, Japan, where every year 23,000 dolphins are captured and sold, some to be trained for entertainment venues and the rest brutally and secretly slaughtered and sold for meat (usually mislabeled as whale meat, since there is little demand for dolphin meat). We learn about the toxic nature of dolphin meat due to high mercury levels, a fact that is covered up by the Japanese government despite the severe health risks, including ghastly birth defects.

And finally, we tag along on a dangerous and clandestine mission by a small Mission Impossible like force, led by Psihoyos, to provide the first recorded evidence of what is happening in Taiji. At this point, the movie takes on the feel of a real-life thriller, as the group is followed and repeatedly questioned by police (O’Barry is well known there and universally hated in the town and by the industry), and harassed by the local fisherman, who follow them around, get in their faces, aim cameras at them and aggressively herd them away from restricted areas. It would feel like an intense drama if it wasn’t so very real. There are world-class free divers (down as low as 88 meters on one breath!), night-vision goggles, thermal-activated cameras camouflaged in rocks, underwater microphones, night-time chase scenes and more.

The net effect is a very compelling film that is both disturbing and beautiful, entertaining and arresting. It is one small element in the depletion of worldwide oceans, but a noble effort to raise awareness at how we are failing as stewards of a precious resource, and how international politics allows this to continue.

We should seek after movies that force us to deal with the ethics of our actions. The Cove is such a movie. For more information, go to (Oceanic Preservations Society) and It would be good to get involved.

Notes from Sundance
Psihoyos, O’Barry and others from the team attended the screening. They spoke passionately about the tenuous fate of the oceans and how this resource which feeds 70% of the world’s population is rapidly being depleted. O’Barry said that he felt responsible for what has happened to dolphins, since the Flipper series from the 60’s started the craze which has led to dolphin entertainment (including swimming with them) becoming a billion-dollar industry. O’Barry sees his actions as civil disobedience and he has been arrested countless times while freeing dolphins. One cast member gave me a helpful Seafood Watch card, which tells which types of seafood are ocean-friendly and which are not. Cards are also available at



Post a Comment

<< Home