Louie Psihoyos’ “The Cove” is having quite the response at film festivals. Six months after winning the documentary audience award in Sundance, the film – which investigates the slaughter of dolphins in Japan – has managed an impressive list of honors: This past weekend, it won audience awards at Nantucket, SILVERDOCS, and Sydney, adding to its pile from Hot Docs, and Seattle. Six audience awards from some highly reputable fests is no small feat.
“I’ve probably seen the movie a 100 times since we finished it and I never get tired of audience’s reaction to the last 20 minutes,” Psihoyos told indieWIRE today. “People laugh, they cry, they’re enraged, they’re engaged, they cheer and are transported to a place where they feel emboldened to make a difference. Seeing ‘The Cove’ is a full body experience in that it engages your heart and your brain.”
“The Cove” follows a group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry (of “Flipper” fame), who infiltrate a cove near Taijii, Japan, to expose both an intense example of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health. “Environmental documentaries suffer from the paradigm set forth by the success of ‘An Inconvenient Truth,'” indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn said in his Sundance review. “That means the genre is typically perceived as a haven for long-winded soapbox stands and dry moralizing under the guise of big screen entertainment. Louise Psihoyos’s riveting dolphin documentary ‘The Cove’ offers the ideal alternative: It’s both an educational work of art and a classic espionage tale.”
Psihoyos believes that audiences are responding to several unique structures of ‘The Cove.” “First, the film plays more like a thriller than a doc,” he explained, “from the opening line the audience knows we are going to break laws to penetrate this secret cove. Then to accomplish this mission we had to set up a kind of ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ team of elite activists, from the model makers at George Lucas’ workshop at ILM (now Kerner Optical) to world champion freedivers, we employ a high tech surveillance gear from a fleet of unmanned drones to military grade thermal cameras which appeals to the youth group which crave action and adventure.”
He also acknowledged the “universal appeal across all demographics” of dolphins and whales, as well as the emotional punch of many of the film’s sequences. “[The scene] with Mandy rarely leaves a dry eye in the house among both women and men and we are barely thirty minutes into the film,” he said. ” And the back story of our hero Richard O’Barry, who trained Flipper, has a emotional appeal to people of all ages. His personal quest for redemption against overwhelming odds is endearing to everyone. He is proof that the passion of one individual can change the world. And that message is particularly important right now when people feel it is so difficult, or impossible for one person to make a difference.”
The film will be released in theaters on July 31st and Psihoyos is hopeful its festival success should translate in its theatrical release. “‘The Cove is not $10 and a box of popcorn,” he said. “It’s film being used as the most powerful weapon in the world – the power to change a wrong.”