NZIFF 2009: The Cove

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(dir. Louie Psihoyos | USA | 2009 | 90 mins)

Review by Hugh Lilly

Both a call to arms and an alternately devastating and thrilling exposé, The Cove is a superbly well-made, important film about whaling and dolphin slaughter in Japan.

More than two and a half thousand dolphins are slaughtered every September in a secluded cove in Taiji, a small whaling town in Wakayama, Japan. Their meat, which contains poisonously high levels of mercury due to environmental changes brought about by global warming, was sold to the national school lunch programme. Until this film was released, local government denied that the levels were dangerous; the dolphin meat programme has since stopped.

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The film interweaves the mission to expose the practises in Taiji with the story of Ric O’Barry, a dolphin trainer on the 1960s TV series Flipper. Once O’Barry realised that keeping dolphins in captivity was unusually cruel, he started a crusade to free dolphins around the world, in theme parks and elsewhere.

Aided by a couple of free divers, O’Barry, and some technology on loan from Industrial Light & Magic, former National Geographic photographer Louis Psihoyos and his crew planted hidden high-definition cameras in the area around the cove in order to capture the cruelty that occurs there annually. The result is both terrifying and illuminating, and makes for utterly captivating viewing.

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The film opens in New York and Los Angeles July 31; a limited release in New Zealand is set for late August.

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