Now, I'm no hippie vegetarian peace-nik and in general, I am sceptical about the ability of agit-docs to change the world, given that they largely preach to the choir. On top of that, I am sceptical about how many documentaries make good use of the 35mm format and truly deserve a theatrical release as opposed to TV airtime. THE COVE is an exception. Watching it was as close as I've ever come to caring about animal welfare. And that's because the documentary is well-argued; is argued with passion; makes itself interesting by disguising itself as a special ops mission; and finishes with the kind of visceral footage that you just can't ignore.
The basic premise is this: dolphins are no ordinary mammals - unlike cattle or chickens, they are possessed of keen intelligence and self-awareness - traits that make farming them for their flesh, or to perform inane tricks in dolphinariums, particularly cruel. Of course, everyone loves Flipper, and in most countries eating dolphin is taboo. However, in Japan dolphins are indeed farmed, as they are too small to come under the protection of the International Whaling Commission. Not that the IWC would do much: it's shown to be a toothless body in which Japan pays off small countries to vote in their bloc. What's even worse is that the dolphins are not farmed in anything like a humane manner. Rather, in the notorious and eponymous cove in Taiji, they are basically tortured with the loud noise of patrol boats and herded into a netted bay, whereafter fisherman harpoon them to death. How do we know this? Because the documentarians mount a daring special ops mission involving camouflaged cameras hidden as rocks, thermal imaging, and general derring do.
The resulting movie contains beautiful images of the ocean that fully justify the use of a big screen, but also some really powerful images of a cove red with the blood of dolphins and audio tracks of dolphins in evident distress. We also get some heroes: not just veteran campaigner Richard O'Barry, whose claim that a dolphin can commit suicide might stretch credulity, but the documentarians themselves, who decided to get the footage out.
This film is something that many films are lazily called - a "must-see movie".
THE COVE was released in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, France, Finland, Germany, the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands last year. It opened earlier this year in Estonia and Sweden earlier this year and in Denmark and Portugal last week. THE COVE is also available on DVD.
THE COVE has been nominated for an Academy Award and has already won a DGA, NBR, WGA and Sundance award.
Additional tags: louie psihoyos, mark monroe, j ralph, brook aitken, geoffrey richman