Back to IndieWire

When are Films Political? (Part 1): The Cove

When are Films Political? (Part 1): The Cove


Films may be political in content covering a political subject or they could have a political affect which polarizes people around issues and causes actions and reactions. The former films might be Doug Liman’s Fair Game, films such as Three Days of the Condor or the classic films of Costa-Gavras or D.W. Griffith. The latter are most often documentaries which today are filling the vacuum created by TV and print media for in depth news coverage. Everyday there are new instances of the latter. Finally, there are films which are made political by others who want to polarize groups around certain issues. These actions, most recently, are not so much about film as about wishes to censor others’ freedom of expression. As these “political films” arise, I will blog about them here because I see film as an art and I see all art as subversive and I see art as necessary to the ongoing development of democratic freedoms.

Today’s item comes from The Hollywood Reporter, which is making great strides in its online efficiencies as well as in its editorial content. The Cove, picked up stateside by Roadside Attractions after its stunning premiere in Sundance 2009, won the Academy Award for Best Doc 2009, was sold worldwide by The Works and finally picked up for Japan by the daring Japanese distributor Unplugged which is now finding political interests intimidating the exhibitors in their efforts to keep information away from the public it affects. Hopefully all publicity is positive publicity and the public will be aroused and enabled to see the film.

From the filmmaker, Louie Psihoyos, as quoted in Sundance’s Blog Inside The Cove

From making my first film, The Cove, to winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary, the past year has been a dream. I often joke that film is a “weapon of mass construction,” and in order to construct a film and have it seen, a filmmaker needs many allies. For The Cove, Sundance has been the best ally possible.

The film tells the story of secret dolphin killings conducted off a coast of Japan and the mercury dangers that residents face from eating the animals. At the beginning of our journey, our grandest ambition was that the film would inspire a small legion of activists. But everything changed the moment The Cove was accepted into the 2009 Sundance Film Festival: our story was a given a voice.

The Hollywood Reporter article is reprinted in full below.

Japanese pundits condemn ‘Cove’ cancellations
Far-right demonstrators cause cinemas to pull dolphin film
Associated Press, June 9, 2010, 06:27 AM ET

TOKYO — Fifty-five journalists, academics and film directors in Japan condemned intimidation and threats that led movie theaters to cancel screenings of “The Cove,” a documentary about the slaughter of dolphins in a Japanese village.

Three movie theaters that had been scheduled to show the film later this month canceled their plans last week after receiving a flood of angry phone calls and warnings of protests by nationalists, who have been screaming slogans outside the Tokyo office of the Japanese distributor in recent months.

Protesters criticize the film as a betrayal of Japanese pride.

The American movie, this year’s winner of the Academy Award for best documentary, features undercover footage of the dolphin hunt in a Japanese village and documents efforts by Ric O’Barry, a former trainer for the “Flipper” TV series, to stop the slaughter of dolphins for food.

Distributor Unplugged said it was negotiating with dozens of theaters throughout Japan, but no showing has been scheduled so far. The film was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October, but has not yet opened to the Japanese public.

Movie director Hirokazu Koreeda, journalist Soichiro Tahara and feminist Chizuko Ueno were among the 55 public personalities who signed a protest letter in which they said they were alarmed by the intimidation tactics used to pressure theaters to cancel the planned screenings.

“This is a film that has been widely shown abroad. If the work, which is about Japan, cannot be shown in Japan, it only underlines the weakness of the freedom of speech in Japan,” they said in the statement sent to media and Unplugged on Monday.

They said that opinion may be divided on the film, but that meant it should be shown to a wide audience to encourage debate.

Instead Unplugged has been forced to hold press screenings under police guard after protests. In recent months the offices of Unplugged have been the scene of loud protests from a right-wing group brandingThe Cove a “terrorist film” and an insult to long-held traditions in the fishing town of Taiji (where the dolphin cull depicted in the film takes place) and a racist critique of Japan. The distributor continued working to book cinemas for a tentative June release date, with some exhibitors nervous about further protests. Additionally, recent press screenings were held under police guard and demonstrators were recently ordered by the courts to cease protests near the residence of Unplugged president Takeshi Kato.
“We were protected by the Japanese legal system and police after we appealed to the courts. The protest group only wanted to demonstrate what they were about by taking advantage.”

Most Japanese have never eaten dolphin meat. But some believe killing dolphins and whales is part of traditional culinary culture and resent the interference of outsiders focused on species protection.

“The work intentionally distorts Japanese people’s food culture, and showing this will hurt many people’s feelings,” one of the protesting nationalist groups, Shuken Kaifuku wo Mezasu Kai, said in a recent statement.

“It’s true Japanese may not feel happy about the way they are depicted in this film,” Tahara said earlier this week in an interview broadcast on the Internet. “But blocking it is not right.”
O’Barry blamed “a small minority of extremists” for the theater cancellations.

“The Japanese people have a right to see it if they want to,” he said.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Uncategorized and tagged