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Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #37 : Gabriela Cowperthwaite Discusses Her Killer Whale Doc 'Blackfish'

By Indiewire | Indiewire January 19, 2013 at 10:09AM

Documentarian Gabriela Cowperthwaite has directed, produced and written works for ESPN, NatGeo, the Discovery and History Channels as well as DirecTV-- among them "City Laz" An Urban Lacrosse Story." She originally moved to LA to pursue a PhD in Political Science, but during a summer in Guatemala she recalls, "seeing a woman wearing a huge backpack, holding a camera filming and chatting up some little kids on the street. I felt like I was watching a way cooler, more fully realized version of myself. I said at that moment, 'that's what I want to do.'"
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"Blackfish" director Gabriela Cowperthwaite.
"Blackfish" director Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

Documentarian Gabriela Cowperthwaite has directed, produced and written works for ESPN, NatGeo, the Discovery and History Channels as well as DirecTV-- among them "City Laz" An Urban Lacrosse Story." She originally moved to LA to pursue a PhD in Political Science, but during a summer in Guatemala she recalls, "seeing a woman wearing a huge backpack, holding a camera filming and chatting up some little kids on the street. I felt like I was watching a way cooler, more fully realized version of myself. I said at that moment, 'that's what I want to do.'"

What it's about: "'Blackfish' takes us from the initial capture of Tilikum, the notorious killer whale who would later be responsible for the deaths of 3 individuals, to the events leading up to that fateful day when a top killer whale trainer was viciously killed. "Blackfish" shows us the devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity."

What it's really about: "The story shows us what can happen when you put members of one of the world’s most intelligent, beautiful and dangerously powerful species in a tank of water, make them do tricks, and 'add humans' to the recipe."

Director Cowperthwaite, on the film's biggest challenges: "I think knowing that I’m telling a story about death – deaths that happened as recently as two years ago, is tough for me. I know the film might piss people off but as documentarians, you brace yourself for that. You prepare yourself for angry reactions. But you never want to cause pain, and knowing that there are grieving family members who will have to think about the horror of their loved one’s demise right when they’re trying to heal, is a hard pill for me to swallow."

Hopes for Sundance: "I hope for 83 minutes, we don't give anyone a chance to 'check out.' And I humbly hope that the film does its part to straighten some stuff up in the world that's come unraveled along the way. But honestly, I can't say I want audiences to feel this way or that. I never wanted to guide anyone's emotions or reactions. I simply wanted to tell the story, as truthfully and powerfully as I could. So I just hope that the film feels like an honest document that doesn't tell people how to feel, but maybe helps them articulate what they do feel. That would be cool."

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on January 17 for the latest profiles.

This article is related to: Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers, Sundance Film Festival, Festivals





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