Canadian free-diving world champion Mandy-Rae Cruickshank swimming with dolphins
|Directed by||Louie Psihoyos|
|Produced by||Fisher Stevens, Paula DuPre Pesmen|
|Written by||Mark Monroe|
|Music by||J. Ralph|
|Editing by||Geoffrey Richman|
|Release date(s)||July 31, 2009
|Running time||91 minutes|
The Cove is a 2009 American documentary film that describes the annual killing of dolphins in a National Park at Taiji, Wakayama, in Japan from an anti-dolphin hunting campaigner's point of view. The film highlights that the number of dolphins killed is several times greater than the number of whales killed in the Antarctic, and claims that 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed in Japan every year. The migrating dolphins are herded into a hidden cove where they are netted and killed by means of spears and knives over the side of small fishing boats.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan's most recent progress report 1,569 cetaceans in Taiji were killed during the 2007 season, including methods other than drive hunting. The Ministry claims that only 1,239 cetaceans were killed by drive hunting, and that a total of 13,080 cetaceans were killed throughout Japan in 2007.
The film was directed by former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos, and portions were filmed secretly during 2007 using underwater microphones and high-definition cameras disguised as rocks.
The movie follows former dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry's quest to document the dolphin hunting operations in Taiji, Wakayama, Japan. In the 1960s, O'Barry captured and trained the five wild dolphins who would play the role of "Flipper" in the hit television series of the same name. This pop-culture phenomenon fueled widespread public adoration of dolphins. It was when one of the dolphins committed a form of suicide in his arms, closing her blowhole voluntarily in order to suffocate, that O'Barry came to see it as a curse not a blessing. Days later, he found himself off the island of Bimini, attempting to cut a hole in the sea pen in order to set free a captured dolphin. Since then O'Barry has worked tirelessly as an advocate on behalf of dolphins around the world.
After meeting with O'Barry, Psihoyos and his crew travel to the small town of Taiji, a town that appears to be devoted to the wonder of the dolphins and whales that swim off their coast. But in an isolated cove, surrounded by wire and "Keep Out" signs, some of the townspeople hide a stark reality. It is here that the fisherman of Taiji, driven by a multi-billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry and a dubious and artificial market for mercury-tainted dolphin meat, engage in the unseen killing. Local volunteers physically block attempts by outsiders to view the dolphin killing taking place in the cove. Together with the Oceanic Preservation Society, Psihoyos, O'Barry, and the crew utilize special tactics and embark on a mission to get the truth on what is really going on in the cove and why it matters to everyone else in the world.
The film also reports on the alleged "buying" by Japan of votes in the International Whaling Commission. The film indicates that while Dominica has withdrawn from the IWC, Japan has recruited the following nations to its whaling agenda: Cambodia, Ecuador, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Kiribati, Laos, Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Among the challenges faced by the production team were the tight security and inaccessibility of the cove. To address some of these issues KernerFX, previously part of Industrial Light & Magic, contributed specialized camouflaged high-definition cameras that were designed to look like rocks. These hidden cameras helped capture footage for the film and were so well camouflaged that, according to Director Louie Psihoyos, the crew had a hard time finding them again.
The film received very positive reviews from critics. Roger Ebert gave the film four stars (out of four), calling the film "a certain Oscar nominee." Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times called the film "an exceptionally well-made documentary that unfolds like a spy thriller," going on to describe it as "one of the most audacious and perilous operations in the history of the conservation movement." Other reviewers also played up the espionage angle of the film, including Time Magazine's Mary Pols who said that The Cove "puts Hollywood capers like Mission Impossible to shame," and Peter Rainer of The Christian Science Monitor who agreed, calling it "a rousing piece of real-world thriller filmmaking." Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 96% of critics had given the film positive reviews, based upon 112 total reviews, summarizing the consensus as "Though decidedly one-sided, The Cove is an impeccably crafted, suspenseful expose of the covert slaughter of dolphins in Japan." At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 82, based on 26 reviews.
There were several unfavourable reviews, usually describing the film as well-made propaganda. David Cox of The Guardian Film Blog called it a "piece of evangelism". From a Japanese point of view "Westerners... kill and eat cows. Easterners eat dolphins. What's the difference?" According to Michelle Orange of Movie Line "it invokes the same phrase as even the most well-intentioned, impassioned activist docs: Buyer beware." There has been some controversy over the depiction of the Japanese people in the film however upon questioning Director Louie Psihoyos said, "To me, it's a love letter. I'm giving you the information your government won't give you." responding to his sympathy for the Japanese people, many of whom are unaware of the situation occurring at the cove.
The film was shown at the 2009 Tokyo International Film Festival. The film was reported to have received an enthusiastic reception. Japanese viewers interviewed after the film expressed incredulity and outrage.
After the screening of the film in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane film festivals, the councillors of Shire of Broome, Western Australia unanimously voted in August 2009 to suspend its sister city relationship with the Japanese whaling port town of Taiji, as long as Taiji continues its dolphin slaughter. The decision was reversed in October 2009.
Dolphin hunting season in Japan begins on September 1 each year. The 2009 dolphin hunting season was postponed until September 9 and activists believe that it is because of the publicity generated by the film. According to campaigners, out of the 100 dolphins captured on September 9, some were sold into captivity and 70 of the bottlenose dolphins were released. In addition, there were 50 pilot whales killed and sold for meat on the same day. Campaigners claim that, although Japan remains unclear on their slaughter policy, it has become apparent that The Cove is having an impact on the way in which Japanese fisherman normally conduct the dolphin hunt. However, investigation by Ric O'Barry in December 2009 showed that the killing of dolphins was once again active.
The film was initially screened only at two small venues in Japan: at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo in September 2009, and at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October 2009. A Japanese film distributor, Medallion Media, subsequently acquired the rights to screen the film in Japan. The company hopes to run the movie in Japanese cinemas in April 2010. Medallion is currently preparing the documentary for presentation in Japan by pixating (obscuring) the faces of Taiji residents and fishermen depicted in the film.
Upon the film winning the Oscar, The town mayor of Taiji and the chief of Taiji Fishery Union said "The hunt is performed legally and properly with the permission of Wakayama Prefecture (local government). It is regrettable that the film won the Oscar as it describes some scientifically ungrounded issues as if they were facts. The dietary culture varies and it is important to respect each other with the understanding of the tradition and situations of each local community." Several people who appear in the film, including Taiji assemblyman Hisato Ryono and Tetsuya Endo, an associate professor at Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, say that they were lied to by the documentary's producers about what the film would contain.
A recent international study showed that, on average, dolphin meat contains 5 times the maximum allowable level of mercury Two Taiji councilmen appeared in The Cove to express their desire to remove Dolphin meat from the school lunch program due to the risk of mercury poisoning, which is particularly harmful to children and pregnant women. After the filming of The Cove, dolphin meat was taken off the school lunch menu in Taiji.
The Cove has enjoyed success across the globe winning awards from all corners of the world, winning over 25 well-respected film awards. Some notable awards include "Best Documentary" from the Environmental Media Awards, Three Cinema Eye Honors  for "Outstanding Achievement", the “Golden Tomato Award” from the critic website rottentomatoes.com , and the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature on the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.
Traveling through film festivals and social events all around the country The Cove has also received the best documentary nod from many critics organizations, including The Boston Society of Film Critics, San Diego Film Critics Society, Dallas/Ft. Worth Film Critics Association, Utah Film Critics Association, Florida Film Critics Association, Houston Film Critics Association, and the Denver Film Critics Society. As the film has received more and more recognition, the Oceanic Preservation Society translated their website into multiple languages to cater for interest from around the world.
The Cove has been nominated for or received numerous awards, including the following:
There was some controversy when The Cove won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary. ABC cameras abruptly cut away to the crowd when dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry raised a banner stating "Text Dolphin to 44144" and did not cut back for several seconds. TV Guide labeled the moment as "Fastest Cutaway," and film critic Sean Means wrote it showed that the Oscar ceremony was "studiously devoid of genuine excitement."