Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Film: The Cove & Activist Documentaries

Last month the Academy Award for Best Documentary went to The Cove (2009), and deservedly so. It’s a powerful, disturbing and unflinching look at what's been going on in Taiji, Japan where an estimated 23,000 dolphins are butchered every year. It’s also the story of Ric O'Barry who deems himself responsible for the growth of the inhumane dolphin industry.

O’Barry was the dolphin trainer on Flipper (1964-67). From living closely with dolphins he came to acknowledge their intelligence and how unsuitable they were for captivity. He also came to realise that the dolphin’s smile is 'one of God’s great deceptions’. And with that, O'Barry's mission in life took a u-turn, as he says: 'I spent 10 years of my life building up the dolphin-in-captivity industry and spent the last 35 trying to tear it down.'

Archive footage shows O'Barry releasing dolphins and getting arrested for his actions. And we see the ingenious lengths both he and his crew go to to capture what goes on in the concealed cove. Despite being frequently followed and questioned by the secret police, intimidated by security and risking banishment from Japan, O'Barry and his crew boldly continue their mission undeterred.

The Cove reminded me of two other recent documentaries: The Devil Came on Horseback (2006) and Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country (2008). At the forefront of each of these documentaries are activists who risk (and lose, in the case of BVJRFACC) their lives bravely capturing images of injustice.

In TDCOH Brian Steidle, former marine turned campaigner, photographs the genocide of non-Arab villagers at the hands of the government backed Janjaweed in Sudan. Witnessing the aftermaths of massacres he photographs innocents who have been butchered in their tents or chained to the ground and torched. His photographs were printed in the New York Times.

In BVJRFACC a group called Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) record the Burmese military junta's violent oppression during the 2007 anti-government protests. The DVB record video footage of Buddhist monks being beaten and found murdered, and a Japanese journalist (Kenji Nagai) fatally wounded at point blank range. The footage is sent to contacts in Norway where it's broadcast across the world.

During the final moments of The Cove cameras finally infiltrate the heavily guarded concealed area and record an act of horrific slaughter that turns the sea red and stomach upside down.

These documentaries hold the camera's unblinking eye at atrocities and ask us to watch, learn and, most importantly, do something. But these reports wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the activists, these exceptional people, our modern day heroes, who brandish one of the most powerful and important weapons on the planet - the camera.

* This is a link to O'Barry's blog, Save Japan Dolphins, which charts the effect The Cove has had, and some posts regarding the recent fatal incident in Orlando's Seaworld where a killer whale drowned a trainer.

* This is a link to Democratic Voice of Burma's website.

* Daniel Steidle's website is down at the moment (I think he's in Haiti at the moment) so here's a link to The Devil Came On Horseback's website.

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