ND/NF: Environmentalism is the code of Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove


The Cove may open mid-scene—with a disorienting panorama of the inside of a van and a rambling lunatic behind the wheel—but it does not waste time addressing its message of dolphins in danger. As the camera swirls, observing the Japanese coastal town of Taiji through the car windows, director Louie Psihoyos makes an ominous, self-referential comment about the documentary process and how they must “try to do this legally.” Immediately, the setting becomes apparent, the exposition reveals the subject’s urgency, and the paranoid, conspiracy-spewing driver, soon to be revealed as Ric O’Barry, starts to make sense.Ric O’Barry, dolphin-trainer-cum-dolphin activist, “spent ten years creating the dolphin industry and thirty-eight years trying to destroy it.” In the 60s, O’Barry served as the main instructor for the charming cetaceans who played the title character on Flipper. After witnessing the stress and trauma suffered by his dolphin-pupils, O’Barry turned his back on the show and began freeing captive dolphins while investigating their rumored slaughter and sale in sections of Japan.

O’Barry is a fascinating specimen—nearly worthy of his own documentary. Given more time to discuss his passionate feelings for dolphins, O’Barry could certain star (ad I mean “star”) in a documentary by Werner Herzog called Dolphin Man. His blowhard narcissism, eerily mirroring the megalomania of Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell, is only eclipsed by his inflated dolphin agenda. If there is one man to convince you that dolphins should be slaughtering men, it’s the perpetually weepy O’Barry, who waxes lyrically about the brilliance and sentience of dolphins.

While O’Barry effusive love of dolphins denotes a hint of insanity, The Cove focuses its attention on a much more damaging widespread madness: humanity’s impulse to reinforce control over nature. In Taiji, Japan, nearly 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered during September through May (crudely referred to as “in season”). The Cove refers to an inlet near the beach where confused dolphins are cornered by the loud noises, whirring boats and savage spears of the fisherman. Director Psihoyos recruits a team to expose the brutality and takes a filmmaking approach most reminiscent of an action film, molding his muckraking narrative into an espionage thriller with high-tech hidden cameras, undercover protagonists, and aggressive villains (both corporate and personal).

As the denouement of bloody red waters washes over the screen and the audience’s collective conscience, The Cove clicks—representing a significant blend of meticulously crafted cinema and call-to-action activism.

-Nick McCarthy

Nick McCarthy also writes for The L Magazine.

Buy Tickets to The Cove: Sat Mar 28: 9 and Tue Mar 31: 6:15

Explore posts in the same categories: festival dispatches, New Directors/New Films, New Voices

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