On March 9th, just two days after The Cove won the Oscar for best feature documentary, the plush theater at The Asia Society in New York was packed with eager New Yorkers waiting to see The Cove, followed by a discussion between the film’s director, Louie Psihoyos, and environmental journalist, Andrew Revkin.
The Cove opens with an extrasensory montage; infrared images of oil derricks, factories, and the heavy machinery of industry, a “Twilight Zone” world—contemporary industrial society—perhaps as perceived by special sensitivities; its underlying mechanisms and menacing absurdities; its inhumanity.
Suddenly, like a birth, we land in the technicolor world of the film’s primary crime scene, Taiji, Japan, as Louie Psihoyos, as narrator, introduces us to the film’s principle player, activist Ric O’Barry.
Psihoyos contacted O’Barry after attending a Reefs Conference where O’Barry was scheduled to speak, but was then pulled from the program by the conference’s sponsor, Sea World, an organization O’Barry opposes at every turn.
O’Barry sent Psihoyos a short video he’d made, entitled Welcome to Taiji, documenting the annual killing of over 23,000 dolphins in Taiji dolphin. Although O’Barry has been devoted to dolphin activism for over forty years, in his own words “I’m like a monomaniac about this one cove, the size of a football field, in Taiji.”
Days later, Psihoyos flew to Taiji to meet O’Barry and shoot footage for what would later become The Cove, nature photographer Psihoyos’ first film. “I was called do this,” he told me during the Asia Society reception. “I’m not that much of a spiritual type, but the universe had a hand in this. . . let’s just say I was not planning to get into film before this.”
Psihoyos has an enduring passion for the oceans and ocean creatures. He directs the Oceanic Preservation Society, a non-profit organization. He considers the moratorium on whaling “the greatest psychological achievement of the last century.”
The Cove received major funding from Jim Clark, Psihoyos’ long-time billionaire friend. Once they’d reviewed and discussed the initial footage, a feature-length production was underway. “I started to get creative in a way I never thought possible. . . . . I wanted this film to inspire a legion of activists. . . . We made this film to give the oceans a voice. All the oceans are in peril.”
Both Psihoyos and O’Barry are confident that the film and its associated campaigns will effectively end the slaughter in Taiji. They explain that it will not be stopped on an animal rights issue, nor an environmental issue, but on the human health issue, because human beings are consuming mercury laden dolphin meat, sometimes falsely labeled and sold as tuna or some other fish. Psihoyos said a doctor explained to him that Mercury poisoning erases what it means to be human. You lose your senses; you lose your memory. But, he explains, it seems too controversial a subject to report on in the press.
The Cove crew took great personal risks to bring the film’s messages to the world. Tenderness for dolphins and other creatures is behind this courage and the strategic persistence necessary in any activist struggle. “This movie is a love letter,” Psihoyos tells his audiences.
In winning the Oscar for The Cove, Psihoyos “hit a home run the first time up at bat,” in the words of Ric O'Barry. Revkin asked, “Do I sense a sequel?” Psihoyos is now at work on his next film, a documentary about the Holocene extinction, the massive planetary loss of species and biodiversity that is manmade and continually exacerbated by human behavior.
Psihoyos calls upon his audiences to act, “once you have this information, what are you going to do with it?” In an interview with Amy Kaufman of the L.A. Times on Oscar night, he said, “The Cove is a microcosm of this 5-alarm disaster that’s facing all marine life. Through pollution and plundering and acidication, we’re doing what no wild animal would do: we’re fouling our own nest. It’s a microcosm of this much bigger issue.”
I was reminded of a brief scene in The Cove in which it was said that O’Barry once rescued two dolphins from a small concrete pool filled with their own excrement. Perhaps this is an image for us to keep in mind.
Listen to the April 1 Living Hero podcast for our Interview with Ric O'Barry.
Watch the Asia Society video here.
The Oceanic Preservation Society site.