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The Cove Documentary Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2126 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In order for a high-quality documentary to capture an audience’s attention it must tell a story. There are three elements to a good documentary. The first is it has to have a set up, this guarantees that that the audience watching the documentary will become emotionally or mentally invested into the characters portrayed on film. Secondly the documentary has to take the audience on a journey, emotionally or mentally, throughout occurrences in the characters lives. Thirdly there must be an inevitable closing of the film that pays off for the characters and the audience. This is exactly what the director Louie Psihoyos does in the documentary The Cove. The directed Louie Psihoyos is a profound photographer for National Geographic (Psihoyos. The Cove). From this experience he knows that in order for this story to be told, he needs to create a human touch in order to captivate the audience. He does this my presenting Mr. O’Barrys story into the film. Mr. O’Barry is a former dolphin trainer who created the world recognized TV show flipper (Psihoyos. The Cove). By bringing this show into worldwide consciousness and causing it to popularize so drastically, he feels like it is his obligation and responsibility to save and protect the dolphins (Psihoyos. The Cove). Throughout this film it is shown that he will do anything and everything to protect these animals from being brutally murdered by the fisherman in the cove. This film shows an act of heroism and courage, not just from O’Barry but also from all the volunteers in this film that put their lives on the line to help end the slaughter of the dolphins. The Cove takes us right behind enemy lines to see the risky and dangerous activities taking place. This is what I like to call an eco-thriller.

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This cove is not only completely hidden by walls of jagged cliffs, but it is monitored and protected by droves and troops of Japanese policemen. Making the shot to see what is behind all of this almost impossible to capture. Due to the difficulty to find access into the cove, the documentary quickly picks up speed and becomes a thriller. Throughout the film there are “bad guys” like a man labeled “private space,” there are chase scenes and secret missions done at the dead of night and a number of investigations done by the Japanese government on the cast and crew of the film. All through this film there are two sides shown; good vs. bad. Almost automatically it is made clear in this documentary that there is a conflict and much resistance to the crews presence in Taiji, Japan. The crew is not only monitored and confronted by the Japanese government, but are as well in threat of being arrested. Which causes much fear and panic for not only the filmmakers, but also the audience watching the film. Under Japanese law, you can be in jail for many months and even years without a hearing or trial for why you were arrested in the first place.

The film sets up like a James Bond movie. The crew plans to go against Taiji’s authorities and to covertly set up remote control cameras and audio devices that will record and expose what the fisherman in the cove are in reality doing. Due to the use of high-tech equipment, such as underwater and infrared cameras, it not only gives this already unique film a completely new appearance and view of things but as well keeps the audience interested and on their feet by using these high-tech devices. The handheld and thermal cameras produces the audience to feel a part of the danger created by the activists to expose the slaughtering. The director integrates scenes from dolphin shows and “smiling” dolphins entertaining large groups people. He uses this to show that the smile of a dolphin is much like an illusion, as it hides their real feelings, as O’Barry describes in the film. Along with the many film techniques used in the film, the film as well uses many diverse emotions of music during different scenes to highlight the moods felt in the scene, which then incorporates the audience to feel the mood in the certain scenes. Not only music is used in the film but also the sounds of dolphins communicating underwater during the slaughter are recorded. These sounds are played over and over in the film causing the sounds to become somewhat implanted into the audiences head. Due to the high-tech cameras being able to capture the slaughters of dolphins to vividly, the audience sees exactly what filmmakers see, no re-enactments, staging or imagination is needed to know what’s happening to the dolphins. In every documentary the view of the director is shown in each interview or camera shot, but the distinction between other documentaries and this one is that the raw footage of the dolphin slaughter can only show the perspective and view of the dolphins not the director.

Not only is this film worthy of James Bond but also it encompasses everything like a spy-thriller would. This film causes the audience to root for O’Barry, who symbolizes the “good guys. ” Throughout this film the audience is constantly questioning whether the cast and crew will be caught or found out and will have to cease the documentary and their mission to expose the fisherman and the government. Most of all the audience is constantly wondering what will happen to the dolphins. This drama not only uncovers the emotional elements of this film, but also reveals intellectual elements. This documentary is strengthened by documentary evidence such as the coverage of International Whaling Commission conferences, interviews with animal experts, doctors, and politicians. The set up and logistics of the operation in this film, which are captured by high-tech equipment, creates a sense of danger, skill and creativity that resembles that of an adventure film. Not only are the consequences high, spending a year in prison perhaps, but also the film will cause the audience to neither enjoy or miss their next visit to watch dolphins performing at marine land.

Many people are uncertain and vary to watch documentaries. Many of there reasons come down to two main reasons. The first is because simply they think they will be boring. The second is that they believe the documentaries will force them to change their minds or reconsider their actions. “Ignorance is bliss” in some cases may be true, choosing our battles only to sustain our sanity but, in other cases there are things that can be done that will not only better you and people around you but as well the world we live in. The prevention of the slaughter of dolphins might seem like a large and inconceivable task but the answer is simple, make people aware of the problem occurring and stop the demand. This is not a huge sacrifice when comparing to 20,000 dolphins slaughtered each year (Psihoyos. The Cove).

But, like most things in life there are two sides and in order to understand one side you must as well study the other side. To somewhat defend Japan and their people; countries like the United States have many practices that could be seen at evil, inhumane or corrupt. The slaughtering of dolphins in Japan can easily be compared to the factory farms and slaughterhouses in the US. Animals like cows, pigs and chickens are treated just as poorly, but we don’t think of their deaths as tragic as the dolphin’s death because they have become domesticated animals that are eaten often and that are no longer wild. When we look at dolphins we relate them close to humans and they as well have large quantities of mercury in their bodies, so Westerners would never think of eating them. Since the cove does not expose the audience to the slaughtering of cows, pigs and chickens, it gives the audience a chance to point fingers at others, like Japan, rather than themselves and issues happening in their country. If a group of Japanese doctors were very concerned about the obesity problem among western children and a documentary film was made about it where they exposed the lies and double standards of the fast food industry, what would probably happen is it would anger and enrage westerners. An example of this is Michael Moore who focuses on issues where he lives, which causes quite the debate.

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The film directly attacks Japan, not only as a nation, but also on the policies, values and customs, which the Japanese have been brought up on. This is apparently shown in the coverage of Japan’s whaling policies. Which is a target for the audience to project their own bad feelings onto. The filmmakers created this target by showing footage that would shock the audience and would make them point fingers at Japan rather than onto themselves. Through this the audience was influenced to think and feel a certain way, such as anger, guilt, suspense, and moral superiority. Due to this the audience feels that they are entitled or have a right to attack Japan on what they are doing. A good example of moral superiority in this film is when O’Barry sees the Taiji people as barbaric. He says in the beginning of the film, “Today they would kill me if they could. I’m not exaggerating. If these fishermen could catch me and kill me, they would (Psihoyos, The Cove).” As well later on he says, “The way the law works in Japan, they can keep you in jail with no charges for 28 days. 90% of the convictions in Japan are obtained by confessions during those 28 days because they can torture you legally (Psihoyos, The Cove).” The whole reason for saying these things is to portray the Japanese in a bad light and to characterize them as uncivilized. The fact that in the US the murder rate is 8 times high than in Japan is ignored. Clearly this objective of this movie is not to be necessarily fair. Only the facts that suit the filmmaker’s ideas, values and thoughts are used.

Most of this manipulation is done not only so the director’s view will be dominant, but that more money will be made and thus the better for Hollywood. If this movie were attacking Americans as well, there would much less of a demand or want to see this film. Due to this film becoming so popular in the entertainment industry the cove have used this to their advantage by creating a PSA (public service announcement) to raise awareness on the Dolphin slaughter in Taiji (The Cove PSA). This PSA feature a wide cast of celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Naomi Watts, Paul Rudd, James Gandolfini, and many more (The Cove PSA) . In this day many actors, musicians and filmmakers associate themselves with causes like this one in order to help their career and to market themselves. Much of activism done today is a type of entertainment. Instant gratifications are in favor rather than objective or balanced views. For self-serving people like some of these celebrities, the causes they speak about are no more than a fashion statement to boost their careers and identities.

It seems that the more you can relate something to yourself or the greater the similarity, the more you feel like it deserves to be treated the same as you. This is one of the reasons why we respond so strongly to seeing the slaughtering of dolphins. This is a way of people reacting to their own self-preservation. The attitude of “You’re either with us, or against us” manipulates people by forcing them to rush to judgment for fear of being labeled as against them and by the use of this manipulation, for good or bad. The images of the film and the actions of the audience are often disconnected because, ecologically, problems tend to be so big any given person feels powerless. But The Cove breaks all of these conventions by using high-quality, high-budget techniques to bring the audience to a conclusion. The Cove does a good job of building up the moment of when the dolphins are slaughtered; infusing education and intensity into the preceding frames, but you simply can’t be prepared to see exactly what happens inside the natural cove. By using all the Hollywood cameras and equipment the most powerful scene in the film is when an underwater camera, showing the waters turning instantly red from all of the dolphins blood. While most of the better socially conscious documentaries are forced to look at a tragedy with years of hindsight, The Coves issues are happening as we speak. This is a film that screams of the present urgency to do something, which makes viewers like us want to get involved. The Cove successfully stays with the audience long after the credits, due to its raw reality.


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