By Doug Porter
By the time the documentary film Blackfish opens on Friday (Hillcrest/ Landmark Theatres) the SeaWorld public relations campaign should be reaching a crescendo. The way I look at it, any film that provokes this kind of backlash prior to its release is worth checking out.
The questions raised in the movie, which builds a narrative about the captivity of orcas (also known as killer whales) around the death in 2010 of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, cut deeply into the wholesome public image that the mega chain of water /oceanariums /marine mammal parks seeks to promote.
While spokespeople with SeaWorld refused to cooperate in any way with Gabriela Cowperthwaite during filming, the resulting film is, by all accounts (including SeaWorld’s) a disturbing look at the living conditions of the nearly half of the world’s orcas in captivity owned by the company.
The intensity of SeaWorld’s response out to gives a clue as to just how concerned they are:
“Although “Blackfish” is by most accounts a powerful, emotionally-moving piece of advocacy, it is also shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate.”
What they are reacting to (and SeaWorld emailed most of the major film critics around the country) are advance reviews like this one in Salon:
“Blackfish” is a highly compelling film that’s already being touted as a likely Oscar contender. It uses the gruesome 2010 death of a SeaWorld trainer named Dawn Brancheau, and the troubled life history of a six-ton bull orca named Tilikum – who drowned and partly ate Brancheau, and has apparently killed two other people – as the starting points for a disturbing and much larger story.
Through extensive interviews with former SeaWorld trainers, scientists and marine-mammal experts, Cowperthwaite builds a portrait of an intelligent but profoundly traumatized animal who was taken from his family in the North Atlantic as an infant, and has been driven to anger, resentment and perhaps psychosis after spending his life in a series of concrete swimming pools.
It’s worth noting here that Federal regulators have kept trainers at SeaWorld from performing in the Shamu shows since 2010, despite an active campaign by the company to allow it.
Here’s the kind of thinking that strikes at the core of the company’s business plan, from TreeHugger:
With science recognizing whales, dolphins and other cetaceans as sentient beings, with deeply intelligent minds and strong family bonds — not to mention that they need a lot of space — it’s hard for many to think that a life in captivity could be mentally or physically healthy for marine mammals, especially large and active whales like orca. But to what extent such a life is problematic,Blackfish tries to make clear. It will likely leave viewers wondering how places like SeaWorld can continue to exist.
And that’s just why SeaWorld is so worried.
SeaWorld’s points of contention with the film, and the filmmaker’s responses are available on Blackfish’s website.
Here’s the very powerful trailer for Blackfish:
San Diego’s SeaWorld Parking Makes the News
You don’t want to piss off Angeleno Nikki Browning, and that’s apparently what SeaWorld San Diego has done.
She’s on the warpath after having her locked SUV cleaned out in the Mission Bay parking lot at SeaWorld recently. Browning told a UT-San Diego reporter that park security didn’t seem to care:
“It was hot, and frustrating,” Browning said. “I know thefts occur. But you go to SeaWorld and pay $15 to park, you have a reasonable expectation it’s a safe place.”
She said a San Diego police officer who took their report told them car burglaries there were common.
Police said it appeared that the thief used some kind of electronic device to open the SUV locks.Police statistics showed 78 vehicle break-ins or thefts at the park last year, 50 in 2011, and 18 this year through June.
SeaWorld spokesman David Koontz said they park about 1 million vehicles a year in the lot.
What was most striking about the story was the comparison with the San Diego Zoo:
The San Diego Zoo has no mounted cameras in its free, city-owned parking lot, but police operate a mobile camera tower seasonally. The zoo lot had one reported auto burglary so far this year, one last year, and three the year before, police said. A zoo spokeswoman said they, like SeaWorld, have about a million cars a year in the lot.
Second District City Council Campaign Fizzles
San Diego lifeguard Ed Harris’ campaign kickoff speech last Saturday turned out to also be his concession speech as he withdrew from the race for the City Council Second District seat and threw his support to Sarah Boot.
Activists working with Bryan Pease had threatened to picket Harris’ campaign launch over what they claimed were positions he’d taken in opposition to the rope barrier at the La Jolla Children’s Pool. Harris’ supporters pointed to an eleventh hour proposal that would have placed large boulders in the area as proof that Pease supporters were wrong . The controversy over erecting or not erecting an obstruction that would keep harbor seals separated from humans using the beach has been a long and bitter one.
Candidate Boot is an assistant United States Attorney and president of Lawyers Club, a group “dedicated to advancing the status of women in law and in society”. Her Twitter bio says she’s a “progressive San Diegan”.
Escondido May Be Going Bluer
Democrats in the North County are touting a poll showing City Councilwoman Olga Diaz leading incumbent Mayor Sam Abed by a significant margin.
The survey was conducted July 13-14 and paid for by the Olga Diaz for Mayor campaign.
1,500 registered voters contacted by telephone gave Diaz a nine point lead in a hypothetical vote for Mayor. The poll found 44% for Diaz, 35% for Abed, with 20% undecided.
From the Dems’ press release:
Diaz announced the results at a campaign kick-off event held at her home July 21. She pledged a positive campaign and encouraged supporters to write letters to the editor describing her positive contributions to Escondido. “I would love for that man (Mayor Abed) to be beat by a girl,” she said to applause. “We’re either going to win or lose collectively,” she added.
North Park Clown Show Continues
The folks at Jack-in-the-Box are exhibit A when it comes to talking about ‘business as usual’ and besieged Mayor Bob Filner’s attempts to change the course of the city.
After months of troubled negotiations with neighborhood residents concerned about the impact of demolition of a fast food outlet at the corner of 30th & Upas, the company promised that the project would be scaled back.
Permits were granted, construction began, and it became obvious that Jack in the Box had pulled a fast one on the community. In stepped Mayor Bob Filner, who ordered Tom Tomlinson, the city’s interim director of Development Services to find a way to stop the project.
Now Dorian Hargrove over at the San Diego Reader reports that Jack in the Box has hired big gun attorneys from Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton to grease the wheels at City Hall., hoping to enable “implementation of land use entitlements and permits.”
More Bull from Manchester’s Minions
Yesterday’s UT-San Diego featured a Steve Breen illustrated story, calling out nine people for enabling the Mayor’s election via the Bob Filner ‘Pyramid of Shame.’
As one local wag noted on Twitter, now we at least know who’s on their enemies’ list.
The lucky nine (who, sadly, won’t be receiving plaques) were: Assemblywoman/former labor leader Lorena Gonzalez, firefighters union “boss”Frank De Clerq, former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, former Democrtic chair Jess Durfee, consultant Tom Shepard, former Republican turned Independent turned Democrat Nathan Fletcher, former House Ethics committee chair Stephanie Jones (for not ordering his immediate execution back in 2007), Loudon County commonwealth’s attorney Jim Plowman (see Stephanie Jones), and former councilwoman Donna Frye.
Not mentioned was Carl DeMaio, whose campaign covertly aided Bob Filner in the earlier stages of the last mayoral campaign, figuring that he was an easier opponent for the runoff election. (h/t Scott Lewis)
But Carl DeMaio did get the UT-San Diego’s Big Play today with a front page, right hand column story about his potential “Difficult Decision” over whether or not to ditch his Congressional campaign in favor of another stab at the Mayor’s job.
Dueling Press Conferernces, Big Guns, Big Talk
Celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred is in town, and local sources say she’s here to have a press conference at 12:30 with a client filing a lawsuit against Mayor Bob Filner.
Todd Gloria and Kevin Faulconer are having a noontime press conference today, presumably to instill fear in the locals that government will collapse unless Bob Filner resigns.
Helen Thomas Makes a Deadline
Okay, I stole that in poor taste headline from Wonkette. But I’m sure Ms Thomas wouldn’t have minded. Here’s something else I stole, from the CNN obituary on the famous White House reporter:
One afternoon in October 2009, she targeted President Barack Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, during the daily briefing.
Health care reform was being debated at the time, and Thomas asked Gibbs every day whether a public option would be part of the package.
In the back-and-forth that ensued, Thomas said that she already had reached a conclusion but could not get a straight answer from the presidential spokesman.
“Then why do you keep asking me?” Gibbs inquired.
“Because I want your conscience to bother you,” Thomas replied.
The room broke into laughter as Gibbs turned red.
Check Out the SDFree Press Calendar
Thanks to the efforts of Brent Beltrán, the San Diego Free Press now has an on-line calendar of events. You can see events in the arts, performances and political gatherings of every persuasion by clicking on the ‘Calendar’ Tab at the top of the page. To get your event listed, drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
On This Day: 1376 – The legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin leading rats out of town is said to have occurred on this date. 1963 – The Beatles’ first U.S. album, “Introducing The Beatles,” was released. 2004 – The September 11 commission’s final report was released. The 575-page report concluded that hijackers exploited “deep institutional failings within our government.” The report was released to White House officials the day before.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman says
Is City Council District 2 candidate Sarah Boot any relation to conservative columnist Max Boot? If she’s the designated hitter for seal-hater and mobile-boulder advocate Lifeguard Ed Harris, I worry.