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Melanie Quick

on 3 March 2014

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Transcript of BLACKFISH

Film Information

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Released in 2013
Audio Element
Visual Element
Film's Purpose
The documentary
's objective is to...

Point out the emotional and physical damage captivity causes orca whales

Pinpoint SeaWorld as the main public perpetrator of orca whale mistreatment

Reveal SeaWorld's coverups and disregard for animal behaviors in regards to orca whales
Film's Thesis
The documentary Blackfish argues that the continued captivity of orca whales and disregard for the safety of the trainers conducted by SeaWorld causes death and damage to the intelligent creatures and to their trainers.
Film's Organizational Structure
Isabel McNally, Lucy Schwendiger, & Melanie Quick
Melanie Quick
Lucy Schwendinger
Use of a Flashback Sequence
Following the initial scenes of a 911 call reporting the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld, the editing cuts to Dave Duffus, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Expert witness in their case against SeaWorld, who says "in order to understand this, we must go back 40 years". The editing then cuts to Sealand, the first home of Tilikum, the orca whale that killed Brancheau and a trainer at Sealand.
Use of Sketches
During the film, Blackfish often touches on the court cases that came about because of the whale attacks that had been happening. To explain the cases in a easy to understand yet effective matter, short cartoons or sketches were created. In these sketches, the arguments being made and the person who made them are being demonstrated in a simple way that makes it very clear what arguments are being made and who is making them.
Use of Old Commercials
Throughout the documentary, there are several old commercials that are shown, for the purpose of putting into light the contrasting ideas being discussed in the film. These commercials create an emotional response in the viewer, because they portray the whales as happy when in reality, they are most likely not.
Home Video
Natural Habitat
There is a section in the film in which the killer whales are shown in their natural habitat. Along with this, information is given about them. Information such as the fact that they live nearly the same amount of years as humans, young whales never leave their mothers side, and as previously mentioned, they are very emotional creatures, perhaps even moreso than ourselves.
Near the end of the film, protests are shown, against the captivity of the killer whales. The signs read things such as "Free Tilly!", "Born to be wild", and "Captivity kills". All of these protests are directed towards the freedom of Tilikum, the whale the documentary is centered around, who killed two of his trainers.
Diagrams or charts
There are a couple of instances in which a diagram or chart is used in Blackfish. One of these diagrams is used to show what a killer whale's brain looks like. It shows that they have a part of the brain we don't have, helping them process emotions.
This editing establishes the connection between the death of Brancheau and the Sealand trainer early on. It also establishes a logical sequence of events following Tilikum's life until the film's ending reaches the death of Brancheau again, in more detail. This brings the story line full circle whilst providing explanations for Tilikum's later actions, thus, never making Tilikum an antagonist.
Use of Juxtaposition
For example, one of the many commercials in the film showed that one of the whales had had a baby. The commercial portrayed it as very exciting, but soon the young whale was actually shipped off to a different place. In interviews, the trainers of the mother whale said they had never heard the whale make the sound that she had when her child got taken away from her; they said it sounded like greif
The scene follows a statement by Howard Garrett, an orca researcher, that a mere twenty-three years ago, humans knew "less than nothing" about orcas and that all information was based off superstition. The editing cuts to a scene from the 1977 horror film, "Orca". Following that, the editing cuts to a scene of an orca playing with hoses on the exterior of a boat. This scene is overlain by Garrett's statement that they discovered orcas are gentle, friendly, and intelligent creatures.
The editing done in this scene establishes evidence behind both of Garrett's statements. This juxtaposition of the vicious orcas pictured in "Orca" and the playful orca in the real footage sets up the film's subsequent argument that orcas have human-like emotions. The stark contrast establishes the point that past superstitions affect treatment of orcas, even today, while also setting up the following scenes about the whales' emotions.
The whales are captured vocalizing on film during the 1970 hunt in Puget Sound. As the mothers are separated from their young they are filmed calling back and forth to each other.
When Kosaka and her calf Takara were separated, and Takara was already at the airport Kosaka went to the corner of her tank and was shaking and making long range vocals, looking for her baby.
At sea world whales chirping and calling as they play and do tricks
Use of a Visual Overlay
Use of Rebuttal
Use of Contrast
Use of Distinctions
Interviews are the main form of dialogue in the film. Interviews from former sea world and sea land employees, Scientist connected to Orca research, and other people related to Orcas such as people involved in capturing Orcas or those who witnessed accidents.
A video was taken of a man being attacked by one of the whales. The whale grabbed a hold of one of his feet and drug him under the water, more than once, for a minute at a time. This video was used in the documentary. The documentary even used the underwater video to show how long he was under there, and yet how calm he was the whole time.
This section begins by former SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg saying there were approximately 70 incidents with orcas and trainers at the park. The editing cuts to a scene wherein a paper is pictured flipping through an incident report spreadsheet (with descriptions of the events) is overlain by a video reel flipping through the footage of these attacks and/or incidents.
The usage of this video was intended to create a very emotional response in the viewers. To see another human being attacked like that by a whale creates a question; why was the whale dragging him down? Was it trying to play and then it got carried away, or was it frustrated with the way it gets treated, and took it out on the trainer?
The argument portrayed by this editing technique is that there is a multitude of attacks. The numbers perceived by the audience through the flipping of the pages is astounding. Additionally, this scene is the first to transition the argument from treating Tilikum's behavior as an anomaly to a regular occurrence amongst other orcas. This argument spreads the effects of their statement all the orca whales in captivity.
Interviews made both emotional and logical appeals. The people speaking presented facts as well as personal stories and reflections.
The showing of whales vocalizing, particularly as they grieve is very emotional. It makes their situation seem much realer and makes it very easy to sympathize with the whales.
This not only has a logical effect, with the use of the diagram, but an emotional one as well. The diagram lays it all out for the viewers, making it easy to understand, and showing the part we don't have. It is emotional because after, the person explaining the whales brain goes on to explain that it's possible that whales have emotional connections. They not only have a sense of self but a sense of community, much like humans do.
The progression begins with a scene of commentary with Mark Simmons, a former trainer at SeaWorld. Therein, he states that not all killer whales in captivity exhibit signs of violence and psychosis, like Tilikum did. The editing then cuts to a video of an incident at Loro Parque, a marine mammal park in Spain, where a trainer named Alexis was brutally murdered. Loro Parque obtained its orcas from SeaWorld but is unaffiliated with the company. The story cuts between footage and commentary made by Alexis's wife and mother.
This editing progression is intended to directly rebut the statement made by Simmons. The cutting provides a conflicting example directly afterward to create the argument that other orca whales in captivity exhibit identical patterns of violence, like those of Tilikum. This scene also sets up the final explanation of the death of Dawn Brancheau. Due to this sequence rebutting the thoughts that Tilikum's behavior was unique, the cutting readies the audience to view the attack without blaming Tilikum's personality.
Showing the whales this way creates and emotional argument because it begs the question, if killer whales are so friendly in their natural habitat, why are they attacking their trainers? It will cause the audience to wonder if they are attacking out of frustration with the way they are treated.
This progressions follows the final explanation of the events during the death of Dawn Brancheau. The footage begins with a video recorded by a fellow trainer following the interaction between Bracheau and Tilikum called "Dine with Shamu". Brancheau is grabbed by Tilikum, and the camera is dropped. The sequence then cuts between the dropped camera and a serene underwater scene of clear ocean water. The scene cuts several times from the commotion of the parts of sound and noise provided by the camera, including an image of Tilikum's bloodshot eye, to the quiet, serene water.
The editing causing this stark contrast provides a sense of disorientation for the audience. This allows the audience to view from, hypothetically, Tilikum's perspective. The film changing from underneath the water to the shaking camera footage is similar to a view Tilikum may have had during the attack. This cutting and the inherent emotion establishes the argument that Tilikum was disoriented by the killing as well. The cutting is specifically designed to negate the presence of anger or purpose. This finalizes the connection that Tilikum did not kill out of anger or brutality, but out of a state of mental confusion, an argument dispersed throughout the entire documentary.
The movie only used instrumental background music, and sparingly. The film relies on piano and violin music by Jeff Beal. The music opens with dramatic, ominous sounding music. The film also uses light, up-tempo music whenever Orcas are shown in the wild, while when they are shown in captivity the music becomes slower and heavier.
Whale Vocalizations
The showing of these protests is designed
to create an emotional reaction out of the viewers. The viewers will have to pick a side; should the whales be freed, or not? Seeing these protests could cause the viewers to lean towards one side rather than the other.
"I just lost it, I just started crying...Its
like kidnapping a little kid away from
her mother.... The worst thing I've ever
done, is hunt that whale." - John Crow,
former whale hunter
2 Way Radio
2 way police radio recordings are used several times thought the film, the first time being with a call about Kelty Burn's death about Daniel Dukes being found dead in Tilikums tank in the morning, about Dawn Brancheau's death being called in an interview with a detective and a EMT about Dawn Brancheau.
2 way radio was used in the film as a way to appeal to emotions, particularly fear and worry.
News Clips
News clips are shown all thought the film. From clips of Kelty Burn's death hitting the news to SeaWorld PR calling Dawn Brancheau's death her own mistake on the news, the clips support or supplement the statements made in the interviews.
The progression begins with OSHA expert witness Dave Duffus's statment that Tilikum now spends his time "alone and lifeless". The film cuts to footage of Tilikum floating immobile in the water with a woman speaking over the tape saying "Three hours, he hasn't moved". The film cuts to other footage of Tilikum floating slowly past a display window with his dorsal fin entirely flopped over. The film then cuts to the wild orca whales, swimming free with straight dorsal fins in a pod.
The distinction in the sequence of cuts between Tilikum, a captive whale, and the wild whales, creates apparent differences. The footage featured sequentially makes the argument that SeaWorld and captivity found there have ruined Tilikum's chances of being a normal, healthy, and functional whale. These final points of sadness, created by this distinction and contrast, clinches the argument of the entire documentary; that Tilikum would be better off free. The filmmakers also use the symbol of the distinct collapsed dorsal fin of Tilikum and compare it to the upright dorsal fins of the wild orcas through the cuts, forcing the audience to make the distinction and connect a collapsed dorsal fin with defeat and captivity.
"Because the whales in their pools die young, they like to say all Orcas live to 25 or 30. We knew by 1980 after half a dozen years of research that they live equivalent to human life spans. And every other potentially embarrassing fact is twisted and turned or denied one way or the other." - Howard Garrett, Orca Researcher
Follow - Up Questions
How has SeaWorld dealt with the implications of this film? They declined to comment in the film, however, does
SeaWorld intend to
change? Or ignore the
What is the goal for Tilikum and orcas like him? They cannot be released into the wild, but the film argues that continued captivity is causing harm. What is the plan?
1. Preface to Dawn Bancheau accident
a. 911 call, detailing how a trainer (Brancheau) fell in the water at the Seaworld in California, and an orca whale attacked and ate her
b. Goes to news reports of accidents
2. Introductions of commentators seen throughout the film
a. Former SeaWorld trainers
b. Orca researchers and activists
3. Explanations of whale capturing
a. Speak generally with a whale hunter
b. Pinpont exact capture of Tilikum, an extremely large killer whale from Iceland and killer of two trainers
4. Tilikum's time at his first home, SeaLand
a. Trainers liked him, very responsive
b. Explain possible causes of Tilikum's problems
1. Prior trainer used punishment
2. Kept in small spaces for long periods of time
c. Explain death of first trainer at SeaLand
5. Tilikum's time at SeaWorld - Moved after death
a. Explain numerous other attacks at SeaWorld
b. Explain SeaWorld's coverups
1. Of Tilikum
2. Of animal lifespans, tendencies, ignoring their reduction in captivity
c. Explain the emotional and physical qualities of orcas that are inhibited in captivity
d. Attack of Dawn Brancheau
1. The conditions and what occurred
2. The implications for Tilikum
3. The SeaWorld coverup
6. Explains the actions that need to be taken
a. Footage of protests
b. Footage of former trainers visiting the orcas in their natural habitat
Full transcript