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By Marcia E. Gawecki
On Friday, March 12 at 7 p.m., there was a quiet showing of “The Cove,” this year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary, at the Green Café in Idyllwild.
In his e-mail prior to the show, Jeffrey Taylor wrote: “Director Louie Psihoyos took home this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary for his stunning heist-like story that is about half Jacques Cousteau and half James Bond. A ‘dream team” of activists venture to Japan to expose the secretive work of a small community of fishermen who slaughter dolphins so they can sell the meat nationally and abroad.
“As hard as it may be to envision, this sensitive and revealing film is both unflinching and mesmerizing in the activists attempt to get answers a la ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ means. Please don’t let the subject matter deter you from seeing this beautifully-crafted film, either tonight or at a later time.”
“I’m going to tell my friends to see this film,” said an elderly woman, one of 15 residents who attended the showing that night. “There’s only about five minutes of graphic killing that I had to turn away. But they have to see it because the message is important.”
Others in the audience included animal lovers, activists and teachers from Idyllwild Arts and Astro Camp.
“Documentaries aren’t like first-run feature films. They don’t come out in DVD right away. It might appear on TV sometime, but it’s going to be hard to rent or buy it, unfortunately,” he said.
However, Taylor plans to show “The Cove” to Idyllwild Arts students following their Spring Break in early April. Betty Bailey, a film instructor, was excited about the possibility of showing “The Cove” to film students and perhaps the entire Idyllwild Arts student body. She didn’t see the film, but had heard good things about it from Will Waddell, an Idyllwild Arts teacher, who did.
For more than a decade on Friday evenings at his Green Café office, Taylor shows a variety of little-known films, including Film Noir, silents, comedies, westerns, horrors and documentaries like “The Cove.” After the Academy Awards last year, Taylor showed the ‘Best Documentary’ winner about a tightrope walker who scaled two skyscrapers.
“I didn’t expect anyone to show up,” Taylor admitted. “But I thought the message was important. They’re killing mammals unnecessarily.”
Those who braved the movie showing said they were surprised that it was less about a brutal portrayal of the killings, and more of a message about how it all started and what one talented filmmaker and activist did to get the message out.
Richard O’Barry, who rose to popularity with “Flipper,” the popular film about a bottle-nosed dolphin in the 1960s, said that he became an activist when “Cathy,” one of the dolphins from the show, committed suicide right in front of his eyes.
Committed suicide? How is that possible? In the movie, O’Barry said that dolphins are intelligent mammals, like us (but with bigger brains), and each breath has to be taken willingly. He thought that Cathy must’ve been depressed about being held in captivity, and killed herself by not breathing.
“She took her last breath and fell to the bottom of the pool,” O’Barry said in the film. “And a week later, I was sitting in jail after cutting dolphins loose.”
O’Barry collaborated with Psihoyos in creating “The Cove,” to get the word out of the massive dolphin slayings that are held each year from September to March in Japan. In a small cove in Taiji, fishermen herd dolphins in from the sea by forming a line of boats and making noises with metal poles. The process is known as “oikomi.”
“Dolphins are keenly sensitive to noise,” O’Barry said in the movie. “They are afraid of the noise and swim to the cove to get away from it. There, they are herded into nets and the bottle nosed dolphins like the ones in “Flipper” are sent to marine parks like “Sea World,” while the other dolphins are brutally slaughtered.
“From September to March, the Taiji fishermen slaughter about 1,000 dolphins a week,” Taylor added.
Their meat is barely edible, because it has high degrees of mercury in it. At one time, the meat was being given to Japanese school children for their lunches. Mercury poisoning can lead to many kinds of abnormalities, especially en vitro. Since the film came out, the dolphin meat in lunch program has been halted.
But the killing of the 20,000 dolphins has not.
“It’s a little more complex than you think,” said Larry, one of the attendees of “The Cove” showing, who works at Astro Camp, and is also Japanese. “Japan is a small country and doesn’t like being told by anyone what to do.”
He said that he thought “The Cove” showed an accurate portrayal, and didn’t unnecessarily blame Japan for the slaughter.
To make the documentary, the filmmakers went illegally into the cove at Taiji, because they wouldn’t have been allowed in otherwise. It’s a Japanese national park, but “Keep Out” and “No Trespassing” signs are posted everywhere. Furthermore, the fishermen are aggressive in not allowing visitors there during the dolphin-hunting season. Armed with video cameras, the fishermen try and get O’Barry and other activists arrested.
According to the film, anyone can be held in a Taiji jail for 30 days without sentencing.
“Most times, people confess to their crimes after they’ve tortured, which is legal in Japan,” O’Barry said in the movie. He is savvy enough to stay out of jail, but receives regular visits from the mayor of Taiji and the chief of police.
Psihoyos and his ‘dream team’ took high-tech video cameras illegally from the U.S. and brought them in to Taiji to depict the slaughter. They hid the cameras in rocks, on top of the hillside and underwater.
“It was important for us for people to hear the slaughter, as well as to show it,” Psihoyos said.
The crew hid the cameras at night and nearly got caught. Two deep-sea divers who could hold their breaths for 300 feet hid the audio cameras in the cove. Before, they had swum with dolphins and enjoyed the interaction.
Throughout the film, the crew interviewed Japanese politicians who insisted that the dolphin killings were humane because dolphins eat too much of the ocean’s fish, which is depleting rapidly.
“That is so absurd, that I cannot even address that comment,” said one of the representatives at the International Whaling Organization where Japan has presented its case for whaling and dolphin hunting. Dolphins and whales are not depleting the world’s fish population; we are with our massive consumption.
The Japanese government told the Taiji fishermen that they are doing a good community service by killing dolphins, because they are fish-eating parasites.
Unfortunately, “The Cove” doesn’t have a happy ending. In barely six months from now, the Taiji fishermen will continue their annual slaughter of dolphins. “They are nervous, but undeterred,” was the text at the end of the film. Fortunately, dolphin meat, with its toxic levels of mercury, is no longer being fed to Japanese schoolchildren.
What can you do? Visit “The Cove’s” web site, www.takepart.com, or text the word, DOLPHIN, to 44144, for answers. There, they tell you to write your congressmen, donate money and get the word out to others to help stop the slaughter for good.
“I had to show the movie, even if only one person saw it,” Taylor said.
In the weeks following “The Cove” showing, he has remained diligent in getting the word out. He’s put a banner on his web site, www.greencafe.com, which generates about 1,000 hits a day. He also sends weekly e-mails to his mailing list about when “The Cove” makes the news, such as when an LA restaurant was closed for selling illegal whale meat, and when “Heroes” actress Hayden Panettiere visited Taiji recently to meet with Japanese officials. Hayden had appeared in “The Cove” documentary, as one of the surfers who peacefully demonstrated in Taiji.
“Japan would have to do something if 10,000 people descended on Taiji in September,” said a local supporter, who was ready to book her flight. “Babies and animals need our voices, because they don’t have their own. ‘Flipper’ is crying out to us right now.”
For more information, visit www.takepart.com, or text the word DOLPHIN to 44144.
Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.