People or dolphins? Human rights or animal rights?
Members of the (US) Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science had this tough choice to make, and their decision – announced at the just concluded 82nd Oscar Awards ceremony – will inspire much debate.
The Oscar for the best documentary feature went to The Cove, an investigative film (described as an eco-thriller) by Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens that chronicles eco-activists’ battles with Japanese officials over dolphin hunting.
The nominee I had hoped would win was Burma VJ – by Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller – which documented the work of video journalists fighting against the brutal military junta of Burma.
Not yet having seen the film, I don’t want to comment on the editorial or technical merits of The Cove. But from its official website, trailer and media coverage/reviews, it certainly sounds like a compelling film. It’s like Hollywood meets Greenpeace.
And as I know from my own film jury experiences, choosing a winner from among excellent contenders is never easy – and the story or content of the film (and its political relevance) is not the only criterion to be taken into account.
Here’s the official synopsis for THE COVE:
The Cove follows an elite team of activists, film makers and free-divers as they embark on a covert mission to penetrate a remote and hidden cove in Taiji, Japan, shining a light on a dark and deadly secret. Utilizing state-of-the-art techniques, including hidden microphones and cameras in fake rocks, the team uncovers how this small seaside village serves as a horrifying microcosm of massive ecological crimes happening worldwide. The result is a provocative mix of investigative journalism, eco-adventure and arresting imagery, adding up to an unforgettable story that has inspired audiences worldwide to action.
THE COVE – Official US Theatrical Trailer
THE COVE is directed by Louie Psihoyos and produced by Paula DuPré Pesmen and Fisher Stevens. The film is written by Mark Monroe. The executive producer is Jim Clark and the co-producer is Olivia Ahnemann.
The Cove was made by the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS), a non-profit organization founded in 2005 by Louie Psihoyos and Jim Clark to “provide an exclusive lens for the public and media to observe the beauty as well as the destruction of the oceans, while motivating change.”
What is impressive is that besides making the film, they have invested lots of time and effort in creating educational and campaigning material for concerned viewers to pursue this interest. They are also using different web tools and social networking platforms to inspire further action on this conservation issue.
Here’s an update from one of their calls to action:“The focus of the Social Action Campaign for The Cove is to create worldwide awareness of this annual practice as well as the dangers of eating seafood contaminated with mercury and to pressure those in power to put an end to the slaughter.
“And it’s been working. The film has been making waves since it premiered last year. Critical praise and audience awards worldwide have focused international attention on Taiji and the annual dolphin drives off the coast of Japan. Under intense pressure, Taiji called for a temporary ban on killing bottlenose dolphins. The film, which was originally rejected, was shown at the Tokyo Film Festival due to public outcry. Residents in Taiji are being tested for mercury poisoning, and for the first time Japanese media are covering the issue.
“Close to a million people have signed on to the campaign, but this is just the beginning. The fisherman are clearly rattled, but haven’t stopped killing dolphins.”
And it’s not just in Japan that the film makers are taking up this cause. They are now taking on culprits closer home.
New York Times, 8 March 2010: Oscar Winners Try to Keep Whale Off Sushi Plates
The dolphins and whales, if they could speak, would be truly grateful.