Published Aug 06, 2009The audience favourite at this year's Sundance and Hot Docs festivals arrives in theatres as that rare film that lives up to its high expectations. The Cove centres upon Ric O'Barry, and his crusade to stop dolphin hunting in Japan. That's right: dolphins. It's a dirty secret that fisherman in Taiji, Japan aggressively hide not only from the world but from their country, all with the tacit approval of the government.
About 23,000 dolphins a year are herded into the narrow coves of Taiji where they are slaughtered then sold in supermarkets as exotic "whale" meat. It's true that fishing is an ancient tradition in Japan and fish a staple of their diet but dolphin hunting and dolphin meat are not. Even worse, dolphin meat contains 20 times the "safe" level of mercury.
O'Barry has something to prove. In the '60s, Barry captured and trained the dolphins that starred in the TV hit Flipper. Single-handedly that show made dolphins performing fleas at marine amusement parks. Problem was, dolphins were born to roam the seas, not languish in cages. They began to kill themselves, like the ones under O'Barry's care. Heartbroken, O'Barry embarked on a lifelong mission to save dolphins from human exploitation.
O'Barry is such a tireless crusader that Japanese cops in Taiji tail him, bug his phones and question him every day. All O'Barry wants is to capture video footage of the slaughter to show the world, but the coves are heavily fortified and naturally inaccessible. So, he and director Louie Psihoyos enlist a team of underwater sound and camera experts, world-class divers and marine explorers. However, the crucial link is movie special effects artists who must hide video cameras in fake rocks that O'Barry's team must plant in the coves without getting deported or imprisoned. If they succeed, they can show the world the dolphin slaughter.
The Cove cunningly mixes this suspenseful cat-and-mouse chase within a larger documentary. Psihoyos examines the dolphin issue on political, economic, medical and environmental levels. He's done his homework and it's hard to argue against his film. He and O'Barry are certainly aware of the power of the media, citing film footage as the downfall of the Canadian seal hunt.
The Cove is powerful documentary filmmaking and it is impossible to see this film without being moved. (Maple)