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Movie: The Cove. Documentary Journalism and an Advocate’s Message

June 30th, 2010


I put “The Cove” on my movie list when it was briefly in Seattle, before it won Best Documentary at the Academy Awards. When it became available on Netflix, it went into the cue; last night I was able to watch it with Lu. I was more than impressed, not just by the film, but by the call to action.

Having a marine biologist for a partner means I get some interesting insight. For instance, some of the interviewees in the film hold multiple roles most viewers wouldn’t know about. How the film makers chose to classify them helped me understand the context of their quotes. We also stopped the film several times so Lu could tell me who certain people were and their role in the IWC or other organizations. I like inside information.

Lu specializes in marine mammals. She scuba dives, has swam with dolphins, and experienced some of the scenes depicted in the film, like dozens of dolphins racing a boat, leaping and playing in the waves. I’ve only seen them in captivity, at the aquarium.

As a multimedia journalist and producer, I was interested in the story development; how it was put together, cut, scored–basically, the nuts and blots of the film. And Lu, who’s been editing over my shoulder recently, kept noticing the same (and, yes, I’m smiling proudly).

I knew about the dolphin slaughter and knew what the filmmakers were building up to. Lu did too, which is one of the reasons she hesitated in watching the film, but I think we’re both glad to have our eyes opened. The final scenes are disturbing but, for me, not as much as an earlier clip where a lone dolphin, already fatally wounded, jumps the net for a desperate run to nowhere.

Dolphin harvesting in Japan has some cultural ties, but it is largely driven by the economics of captivity programs. And while I find the wholesale slaughter an atrocity, the film brings to light something a global audience can connect with: mercury.

Consuming high-level predators, like dolphin or tuna, exposes us high levels of mercury. This was publicized awhile ago in US media when pregnant women were told to moderate their tuna consumption. The film addresses this, using mercury poisoning at Minimata to illustrate it, but the DVD special feature underscores it with much greater severity. The only people we have to blame are ourselves. See images of Minimata by Eugene Smith, from his landmark documentary work.

I found the film a strong piece of documentary work, an amazing effort by filmmakers, activists, technicians, and “regular” people. I also applaud the two Taiji city council members who demanded mercury-poisoned dolphin meat not be served to their children. They stood against Japanese culture, embodying “the nail that sticks up” and not being pounded down.

What takes this film beyond a mere documentary is the follow-through its producers provide us, the viewers. Instead of just ejecting the DVD and going to bed, they help us in doing something. For dolphins and, more complexly, with regard to mercury, another one of our environmental legacies.

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2 Responses to “Movie: The Cove. Documentary Journalism and an Advocate’s Message”

  1. Tim McGuire says:

    Tim, If you’ve not seen “Harlan County, USA” you should. It’s a great documentary film available on Netflix. Amy and I just watched it the other day.

    We loved (and hated) The Cove. Let’s hope the slaughter stops.

  2. tim says:

    Thanks Tim, I’ll take a look at it…put it on our Netflix!

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