It's not likely you'll want to take your kids to SeaWorld after seeing Blackfish, a riveting documentary expose starring former trainers of orca whales, taken from the wild. It is hard to get warm and fuzzy over fish that weigh a few thousand pounds each, no matter how many times they leap to the ball or roll over on command, but once you see the pups separated from their mothers, or hear the sound they make when they grieve, this movie has you by the heartstrings.
At a dinner at Circo on Wednesday night, filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite explained how she got interested in this subject: a mom who took her kids to SeaWorld, she thought, this is fun for the kids, but what is wrong with this picture? And then in 2010, when a trainer was killed by one of the whales in captivity, an attack that was covered up, the victim, a seasoned and beloved trainer blamed for wearing a ponytail, she decided to investigate this world where highly evolved animals are kidnapped from their natural habitat and forced into the entertainment industry where they are penned in tight surroundings with other whales in sometimes nasty relationships.
Samantha Berg, now an acupuncturist in Alaska, is one of several former trainers in the film; after realizing the indefensible immorality of this business, she suggested a rehab process for the whales, that is, returning them to the oceans. They would never survive in their present condition transformed by drugs, and horrific experiences, but could survive gradually.
Present at the screening and dinner, a state-of-the-art Peggy Siegal event, Peter and Nejma Beard, Calvin Klein, Albert Maysles. Documentary filmmaker Kate Davis, whose documentary on the Cheshire Murders will air on HBO later this summer, pointed out that we are so willing to take a compassionate view when it comes to animals, even when they kill. We are less giving toward children of deplorable childhoods who commit heinous acts.
A debate ensued that resonates for yet another new documentary, Lost for Life, directed by Josh Rofe, and produced by Ted Leonsis, Rick Allen, Mark Jonathan Harris and Peter Landesman, about young people who committed murders as juveniles who are now serving life sentences without parole. You hear both sides, that is, about childhoods that are near Dickensian, defined by sexual and other forms of abuse. You hear from families of victims who want justice. Those interviewed behind bars seem to have transformed their lives, and you may want to consider, as the filmmakers seem to suggest, their sentences be reviewed. The film is featured at AFI this weekend, and next week's Nantucket Film Festival.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.