When you think of The Cove—the 2009 Sundance Film Festival Documentary Audience Award winner—think “guerrilla journalism.” A band of activists led by former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry (who, in the 1960s, trained the animals used on the TV show Flipper) and Louie Psihoyos of the Ocean Preservation Society (a renowned nature photographer making his documentaryfeature debut as a director with this astonishing film) steal into a protected cove in a Japanese fishing village where a horrific slaughter of tens of thousands of dolphins happens every year, determined to capture the audio and video evidence the world needs to understand the horror and the pointlessness of what is happening there.
They tried to record the goings-on legally, Psihoyos explains with a metaphoric, wonderfully devil-may-care shrug, but the cove is zealously protected by the locals, who make a lot of money off the awful harvest even as the Japanese public at large knows nothing of it. So, with determined aplomb, the team court bodily harm—not to mention legal prosecution—in order to do the job they fervently believe needs doing.
Passionate people highlighting a sin, a crime or a wrong they want to change is practically the definition of “documentary” these days. But The Cove has balls in spades, like I’ve haven’t seen in other similar activist movies of recent vintage. It doesn’t merely use the narrative structure of a fictional popcorn-movie heist to tell its tale; it appropriates the spirit of the attractive-criminal story, too, truly engaging us in its aggressively antiauthoritarian attitude. The Cove is not polite, and it is not demure.
And so The Cove—even given its depressing portrait of the clusterhump of inertia, enforced ignorance, and just plain greed that allows the dolphin slaughter to continue—is powerfully hopeful. It’s a confident and optimistic reminder that those sayings about dedicated people changing the world, and unreasonable people driving progress, don’t just sound good. They’re true.
Directed by Louie Psihoyos