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WINNER: ’The Cove’ Wins Academy Award For Best Documentary Feature

Originally Posted: May 24, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

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A lighter moment between producer Fisher Stevens, director Louie Psihoyos, activist Richard O'Barry and moderator Alec Baldwin during the post-screening discussion of "The Cove" film shown at Guild Hall. Photos by Douglas Harrington

Editor's Note: We thought our readers might like to read an article from last May on this year's winner for Best Documentary Feature at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards - "The Cove," which premiered at Guild Hall in East Hampton last May, and was introduced by Alec Baldwin. Congratulations!

East Hampton - Every seat was filled on Friday, May 22, as Hamptonians packed the newly renovated Guild Hall for the premiere of director Louie Psihoyos' Sundance Film Festival Award winning documentary, "The Cove." Presented in association with the Hamptons International Film Festival, the film ushered in Guild Hall's SummerDocs Screening Series. The series is hosted by award winning actor and HIFF Board Member, Alec Baldwin, who not only introduced the film and moderated the post-screening discussion, but personally selected the films for the summer long series.

"The Cove" director, Louis Psihoyos.

As one of the best examples of true, investigative documentary journalism, the director and crew of "The Cove" literally put their lives at risk to record the capture, abuse and slaughter of dolphins in a hidden cove in the Japanese fishing village of Taiji. Collaterally, the film also illuminates the toxicity of these marine mammals' meat and the threatened sustainability of the world's marine life due to over-harvesting and industrial pollution. The film took three and a half years to bring to fruition and was inspired by the work of marine animal rights activist Richard O'Barry, who was in attendance for the discussion and audience Q&A.

O'Barry was not always an activist on behalf of captured cetaceans, but had, himself, spent the early part of his life building a reputation as one of the world's most accomplished marine mammal trainers. "I was as ignorant as I could be, for as long as I could be, then you get information and you respond." To his own personal regret and self-admonishment, he was responsible for both the capture and training of the five dolphins that were used in the 1960s television series "Flipper." At one point in the the film, O'Barry retells the story of Cathy, the bottle-nosed dolphin who portrayed "Flipper" in the series, dying in his arms during an act he described as "committing suicide" as a result of the stress of living in captivity. He emotionally recalled the moment when the otherwise physically healthy dolphin looked into his eyes and appeared to give a farewell stare, as she simply chose to stop breathing and slowly floated to the bottom and died.

Marine mammal rights activist Richard O'Barry with series host/moderator Alec Baldwin.

Since ending his days as an aquatic trainer, O'Barry has devoted his life and resources to the defense of dolphins and whales, challenging the International Whaling Commission almost single-handedly. A commission that, as it appeared to all the attendees who viewed the film, seems impotent to curtail the abusive and species threatening activity of the Japanese fishing industry in particular and other countries in general that allow the capture for entertainment use and the hunting and harvesting for food of dolphins, porpoises and whales. In truth, O'Barry remains a marine mammal trainer, but now he trains, or retrains, captive dolphins in preparation for their return to the ocean. Undoubtedly, he would like to see every aquatic amusement park gulag closed and the cetacean prisoners freed.

He has been arrested on more than one occasion, but the dolphin holocaust in Taiji has created O'Barry's "line in the sand" and he has put his life at risk to end it. "We are concentrating like a laser beam on exposing what is happening in Taiji and shutting it down and this film is the most important thing that can happen to shut it down. It will probably be the thing that shuts down international whaling."

The geneses of Psihoyos' collaboration came when he found out that O'Barry had been removed as a speaker at an international marine conference he was attending at the behest of one of the sponsors, the aquatic amusement park corporation, Sea World. Psihoyo thought this odd and contacting O'Barry was soon enlisted into his cause. No stranger to the preservation of the oceans and aquatic life, Psihoyos is the Executive Director of the Ocean Preservation Society. Although "The Cove" represents his directorial debut, his underwater photographic work over the past several decades charting the destruction of the oceans has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, among numerous others.

"The Cove" co-producer, Fisher Stevens.

Although an important, serious and disturbing film, the evening's screening was not without its moments of humor, in large part thanks to moderator Baldwin. As the Japanese government imposes a news blackout regarding any stories concerning dolphin or whale hunting, both Psihoyos and O'Barry reiterated the importance of getting the film in front of the Japanese people. Offering to help promote the film, Baldwin, a long-time animal rights activist himself, was taken aback when O'Barry invite him to return to Japan with him in...July. "July? July - You don't understand, Ric, this is the Hamptons, we don't go anywhere in July but here. We don't go anywhere for three months." Baldwin elicited more laughs from the audience when he asked O'Barry if he could use his marine mammal training techniques to keep the deer out of his organic garden.

An enormously expensive documentary to produce, the film's primary backer was Netscape billionaire Jim Clark. One of the working producers of the film was East End actor Fisher Stevens. In the lobby after the film Stevens told me his reaction to the Guild Hall screening. "The screening was great. I want to take Alec on the road with us, do a Q&A after every film, because he was great. I think it was a great audience. I'm happy, I want it to play at the UA down the street."

Director Psihoyos' reaction to the East Hampton audience was equally effusive, "One of the most responsive audiences we have had. It was the perfect audience for us, they were bright, intelligent, concerned about the issue." He continued, "It gives me hope that you can make an intelligent film and at least some people will respond to it. Like I have said before, it is not $10 dollars and a box of popcorn. My mission is not to make money by putting people in the seats, my mission is to change minds. It is like going to war with a camera."

In the case of "The Cove," it is going to war against the police, fisherman and village officials of Taiji, the Japanese fishing industry, the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia), the IWC, and the collective ignorance of those among us unfamiliar with the plight of marine mammals worldwide. It is a war that Psihoyos, O'Barry, Stevens and Clark, with the help of concerned activists like Baldwin and others, have every intention of winning.

Hamptonians packed Guild Hall for the opening night of the HIFF SummerDocs Series.

"The Cove" will open around the country in July, with international distribution in place as well. To find out more about the film specifically go to www.thecovemovie.com. To find out what is coming up this season at Guild Hall go to www.GuildHall.org or call 631-324-0806.

To help end the abuse and slaughter of marine mammals go to one of the following websites www.takepart.com/thecove; www.OPSociety.org or www.SaveJapanDolphins.org.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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Guest (patricia) from north carolina says::
this is superb and long long long overdue...hats off to everyone involved.
May 25, 2009 12:55 pm


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