Class Work

Documentary Storytelling; Blackfish

            For years Sea World has advertised the beauty and wonder of seeing killer whales in their parks, showcasing the creatures in elaborate shows. But what most people don’t know is Sea World’s controversial methods of obtaining and caring for the whales. By watching Blackfishyou follow the story of Tilikum the orca, and learn what really happens to these animals when they are put in captivity, and how it has led to multiple incidents of death.

Where to begin?

            This story has such a complicated history, and has been covered by the media many times, there is no surprise that it starts in media res. We begin with detective interviews covering the death of senior Sea World orca trainer Dawn Brancheau. This causes the story to start at such a large climax that really pulls any viewer into the story. I was amazed that just the beginning of the documentary used 3 different mediums, video, audio, and text to draw people in with the mystery of what happened on that fateful day in 2010. 

Who is Tilikum?

         The Blackfish narrative arc mainly follows Tilikum, who acts as the story’s protagonist, even though you never find yourself “rooting” for him. The setting starts in 1984 in Victoria B.C., and then follows Tilikum to Orland FL from 1993 and beyond where he lived out the rest of his years.  The setting also jumps to other Sea World parks to show other whales showing acts of aggression and injuring trainers. 

What’s the story?

            So you may be asking yourself “What exactly is the story here?” The story’s exposition is told through former Sea World trainers. I saw this as a great way to introduce Tilikum and give the audience understanding of a profession that is not well understood. The first inciting incident introduced is the first death of a trainer, which is assumed to be at the fault of the larger than life protagonist. The fact that it is not confirmed that Tilikum was the killer, really leaves you in suspense as the documentary continues. 

The rising action unfolds as the film follows multiple incidents including both Tilikum and other whales. This rising action leads to a deeper understanding of who the true antagonist is in the film, Sea World. And the story returns to the climax, but with much more details this time. These details allowed me to understand the tragic event as a whole and bring the story full circle. I thought it was wonderful how the climax was shown through so many different angles. There were videos of the whale show that day, recordings of the 911 calls, autopsy reports, and news coverage. These were woven together beautifully to explain the climax and begin the resolution. The final resolution allowed for a full circle reflection for both the viewers and the former Sea World trainers to see orcas in their natural habitat.

What did I think?

            I think this documentary does a wonderful job of weaving together both a powerful storyline, with a strong and important message to be learned. The documentary not only told the story of Tilikum, but really taught people about Sea World’s wrong doings throughout the years. I think this documentary shoes the power of amazing storytelling. Not only can we produce something that tells a story, but also that stories can start movements that cause real change in the world. 

Works Cited

Cowperthwaite, Gabriela, director. Blackfish. CNN Films, 2013.

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