List Film

Blackfish (4 stars)

Impressive execution ensures this documentary grips like a thriller


In the passionately polemical Blackfish a killer whale lives tragically up to its name. Gabriela Cowperthwaite's second documentary feature (her first as a solo director) is a riveting and accomplished story of animal cruelty, corporate irresponsibility and nature striking back.

On 24 February 2010 at SeaWorld Orlando Tilikum, a bull orca, attacked and killed Dawn Brancheau, one of the resort's senior trainers, during the 'Dine with Shamu' show. Cowperthwaite's film attempts to put this shocking incident in context, illustrating that it wasn't the first of its kind. It jumps back to trace Tilikum's fraught history in captivity and extends even further to examine the first (illegal) captures of young whales for what is now a billion dollar entertainment industry.

Cowperthwaite and her contributors build a compelling case against keeping killer whales in sea parks and are highly critical of SeaWorld specifically. Most moving and persuasive are the numerous contributions from ex-SeaWorld trainers whose initial enthusiasm for the profession has been starkly disabused. Few voices speak in SeaWorld's defence, but - considering that the organisation themselves declined to contribute - that's not too surprising. Blackfish is illuminating and emotional and Cowperthwaite's impressive execution ensures it grips like a thriller.

Limited release from Fri 26 Jul.

Blackfish Trailer


  • 4 stars
  • 2013
  • US
  • 90 min
  • Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
  • Written by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Eli B. Despres
  • UK release: 26 July 2013

The story of Tilikum, a killer whale kept in captivity known for, well, killing (people, that is).


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