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Stars: With: John Hargrove, Samantha Berg, Jeffrey Ventre, John Jett, Mark Simmons, Dean Gomersall, Kim Ashdown, Carol Ray, Christopher Porter, Eric Walters, Steve Huxter, Ken Balcomb, Howard Garrett, Lori Marino, Dave Duffus, John Crowe, Suzanne Allee, Estefania Rodriguez, Mercedes Rodriguez

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

One of the key attributes of a well-made documentary is that it should have a point of view and stick to it.

While obviously that point of view may often be biased or simply reached prior to the event (most often in television documentaries - remember ITV’s World in Action?) if the documentary is ultimately effective in its proselytizing it should have made its point, however jaundiced.

Obviously, too, it should have an impact on its intended audience. Here, in her scarifying story of a performing killer that killed several people while in captivity, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite makes the reason for her film patently clear, saying: “In the summer of 2010, Dawn Branchae, a renowned SeaWorld trainer, was killed by Tilikum, a 12,000 orca, I remember a fragment: something about how this almost never happens in these parks, the animals are happy and the trainers are safe”.

Her film, vividly composed of archive footage and, highly effectively, to- camera comments, including the shocking “A whale has eaten one of the trainers” makes potent viewing. Cruel training methods are exposed, fascinating facts are revealed including the fact that orcas are a matriarchal society, a chilling “get back on the horse” culture among SeaWorld performers who suffer setbacks during training and/or in performance and the sinister statement: “NO RECORD OF HUMAN HARM IN THE WILD” makes Tilikum’s story all the more tragic.

(The inclusion of a melodramatic clip from Michael Anderson’s 1977 Orca effectively underlines the showbusiness element of animal abuse).

The film’s innate message – that captivity makes killers – is powerfully put over without tedious, or too obvious preaching. Perhaps, most forcefully of all in making its point, SeaWorld refused interviews.

Alan Frank

USA 2013. UK Distributor: Dogwoof. Colour.
84 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 27 Jul 2013