Trainer Death at SeaWorld Analyzed in Magnolia Pictures’ BLACKFISH – Opens July 19, 2013

A film by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite investigates the 2010 death of SeaWorld Orlando killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau.  Magnolia Pictures’ BLACKFISH opens in limited release on Friday, July 19th, but has already been making the rounds at prominent international film festivals such as the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.  In BLACKFISH, Cowperthwaite uses interviews with trainers and experts to challenge the viewers to re-consider our relationship with the killer whale.  Continue reading for more details including images and the trailer for BLACKFISH.

Magnolia Pictures BLACKFISH

Adapted from Magnolia Pictures Press Release

February 24, 2010 is a day whale trainers – and fans of sea parks – will never forget, particularly those who were present that day at SeaWorld Orlando.  It was then that a veteran killer whale trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was killed by one of the park’s oldest residents, an orca named Tilikum.

Magnolia Pictures BLACKFISH

Tilikum in a scene from BLACKFISH, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 

Despite the incident, and others like it involving Tilikum, the giant sea mammal is still the object of both love and empathy from killer whale trainers, including many who have known and worked with him.  BLACKFISH introduces us to a handful of former SeaWorld trainers, who share about their initial attraction to working with the whales at the parks and many of whom recall Brancheau’s skill and ability working with the sea mammals.  While, at the time, at a loss for understanding why Tilikum attacked a former colleague, with whom the whale had worked for years, they now share their stories, as well as the knowledge they’ve gained since the incident, providing a unique insider’s view of the inner workings of the SeaWorld operation and its twists on both whale facts and reality.

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Tilikum in a scene from BLACKFISH, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 

In BLACKFISH, writer/director Gabriela Cowperthwaite not only tells their story, but, through their words and those of renowned and respected whale experts and educators, attempts to tell that of Tilikum himself.  Viewers come to understand the complex social and emotional lives of the majestic orcas, enabling them to begin to comprehend the effects removing them from their natural environments can have on the creatures.

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Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite on the set of BLACKFISH, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 

Tilikum’s story is told from the time of his initial capture in the North Atlantic in 1983 at approximately two years of age, to his first non-ocean “home” at another park, Sealand of The Pacific, where, in 1991, he was responsible for killing trainer Keltie Byrne.  Shortly after, he was sold to SeaWorld Orlando, where trainers were largely kept in the dark about the whale’s involvement in Byrne’s death and permitted to work closely with him.  They share with the audience the “party line” of incorrect whale facts given to park visitors – from diminished whale lifespans to whales performing tricks (or “behaviors,” in SeaWorld-speak) because “they want to.”

Magnolia Pictures BLACKFISH

A scene from BLACKFISH, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 

Several whale attacks are seen and explained, including a particularly harrowing one involving trainer Ken Peters, who skillfully – and miraculously – survived the grip of a killer whale who refused to release him, dragging him to the bottom of the park’s tank repeatedly for long periods over a torturous 12 minute session of seemingly inexplicable misbehavior.

Magnolia Pictures BLACKFISH

Dr. Dave Duffus in BLACKFISH, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 

The film details a case brought against SeaWorld by OSHA, bringing to light both the details of the Brancheau incident and the steps taken since to begin to protect whale trainers from any further attacks.

Magnolia Pictures’ BLACKFISH opens in Los Angeles and New York City on July 19, 2013 – expanding to additional theaters across the U.S. on July 26.  For more family movie news be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.