Eco-thriller documentary The Cove follows Louie Psihoyos, leader of the Ocean Preservation Society, and Richard O'Barry, a dolphin trainer and activist best known for his work on the 1960's TV show Flipper, as they infiltrate a small seaside Japanese village where tens of thousands of dolphins are secretly slaughtered every year. The critical reaction has been stellar, and we can assure you that the film is not some tedious Earth First diatribe—it's a suspenseful tour-de-force about the Japanese government's effort to cover up something quite revolting, and one small group's mission to expose it, using everything from high-tech hidden cameras to breath-holding free divers. And yet, The Cove has struggled to connect with mainstream American audiences, much to Psihoyos's dismay. Check out the trailer below, and go see it while it's still screening at Angelika... or Psihoyos will personally hunt you down like a dolphin.
I saw the film two weeks ago, and found it really gripping and powerful. You're one of four people in New York that saw it! I mean, it's doing pretty well in the coastal cities, but I was hoping it would do a lot better.
Has the film been seen in Japan? Um, what do you mean by that? Is it being screened? We're looking to do that. It's a tougher market, but one way or another we'll get it in there. The Tokyo Film Festival, they keep on waffling, they say, "Well, it would be hypocritical of us not to show the film, given the theme of this years festival, which is the environment." And then they say, "We're not going to show it," and then, "We might show it." And so it keeps on going back and forth. It's a very, very difficult film to show in Japan because the government really has control over media over there. They don't really have a free press like we do, and it's really an oligarchy controlled by a few corrupt people.
Some have suggested that if the Tokyo festival decides not to include the film that the jury president Alejandro González-Iñárritu should step down. Do you agree? Do you think people should boycott it? No, I don't. I was at the Melbourne Film Festival when the Chinese were boycotting because of some film that was perceived as anti-Chinese or whatever. I don't think anybody should boycott it, no I don't. I think it's a disservice to art. The director of the festival called me and said it would be hypocritical not to show it. Well, he's a hypocrite! That's an indictment enough against their motives. I think that this is an important film, not just for Japanese people but for the environment and for every Western culture that there is. You know, we made a film that is, if not the most, is one of the most exciting documentaries ever made. I think it's beautifully shot—yeah there are some grisly moments—but they're very few and far between and very tastefully done, and I just don't get it. I don't get it. Do you?
Well, most Americans consider movies as strictly escapism, and anything that deviates from that at all has a tough time competing with Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe. Well, I guess. Americans aren't reading. They really aren't reading. I went and met with David Rosenthal, the head of Simon & Schuster when I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, and he said you could draw a line straight down into the tank where journalism and where people are heading. It's like we've become a nation of dunces. Where are we getting our information from? We're not reading and we're not going to the movies for anything serious, and we're shutting newspapers by the billions of copies a year, where are we getting educated from? I don't know, I mean I don't think the answer bodes very well for America.
Jesus, it's a little bit daunting; I mean we thought we had this crossover film. This film has action, adventure, was set up like an Ocean's Eleven film, and at the end of the day, you know, you feel better for it. I think it's a great date film, actually, because you want to see that hardcore guy next to you crushed, you want to see him crumble, you want to see a tear, you want to have something really interesting to talk about when you get back to his place? This is the film to do it. It makes the guys feel alright cause it's got this action-adventure component, and for the women, it's emotion-packed. It's got everything. Except an audience!
On the festival circuit, this movie has been rocking people's worlds. It's gotten nonstop standing ovations, you do a Q&A, people are still sitting in their seats two and a half hours later. They don't want to get up, they're still talking to each other. This, to me, is a movie that does that. It gets your brain engaged. It gets your heart engaged. I thought that's why you went to movies. I thought that's why you read a great book. You want to watch a movie that's going to make you feel alive. You know, if you want a shot of booze, if you want a shot of cocaine, you go see popcorn movies. But if you want to be affected, you read great literature, you go to the opera, the theater, you go to a great film. But people aren't perceiving it as that kind of event. I think, I mean I'm astounded! On the festival circuit, where people are generally more intelligent and more receptive towards something that's a little different from the Hollywood tripe, this has rocked their world. But for popular America? I guess I didn't have my finger on the pulse.
Well, sometimes things have an impact in ways that can't immediately be measured. With the dolphin slaughter expected to resume again soon, do you expect increased activism? That has increased; there is definitely more Japanese awareness now. Sometimes you have to reevaluate and take the longer view. I mean, we are engaging the press and the media in Japan; for the first time they're talking about this. A reporter for the largest newspaper in Japan came over here on her own nickel and interviewed me last week; Nikkei, it's sort of the Wall Street Journal of Japan. We are breaking through this glass ceiling on Western stories on dolphins and whales and porpoise and mercury poisoning, so it's starting to have an effect.
And the movie's out and there are tens of thousand of kids who won't be served poisoned dolphin meat because of this movie. I mean, what other movies can you say that? Because you saw an Ocean's Eleven movie, did anything change? Or did you just get your blood sugar levels spiked up for a little bit while you had your popcorn and got your adrenaline going? Nothing changed, right? You see this movie, and definite action happens, but we also want profound social change to happen, not just in Japan but all over the world. I mean, a friend of mine just wrote me from New York the other day saying he just got his mercury tested and he had 26 parts per million! He said, "Your movie saved my life." This movie is a lot more than $10 and a box of popcorn.
The titular cove.
Part of the problem with the Japanese dolphin hunters, the word for whale in their culture is "kujira," which means monster-fish. So it's like, a monster needs to be killed and it's a fish; to them it's just a big fish. The word for dolphin is something like hog-fish, so they don't feel that it's a mammal. And there's also a very species-centric problem there, in that we can't really regard any other species, like in America if they don't speak English they can't be smart. A dolphin has a bigger brain than us, it has more time to go through the gray-matter, so it has more sensory neurons, and the animals are just as sensitive as us. And just because it can't do calculus or differentiate between an Ocean's Eleven movie and a documentary, just because it can't do all the things that we can do, we think it's just an animal. What if this animal actually has more natural intelligence than we have? It's been on the planet for 55 million more years than us. And it managed to do it without jeopardizing the whole planet in a couple hundred years like we have.
I'm just glad that dolphins don't have the ability to ask, "What good are humans?" Because the only way that we're able to save them is to prove that we made the environment so toxic that we can no longer eat them. I mean, there are some fabulous allegories in this movie that are epic. And, you know, some people are picking up on it, they see it as a classic, but the mass of people aren't going in droves. You can kind of understand why it took Huckleberry Finn a decade to become popular, you can understand why Melville was very popular. This is popular entertainment. This is a movie that should be easy for people to grasp, as they do with other complex subjects pretty quickly with the Internet. If you look at the blogs, all of them are saying you have to see this, if you see one movie, see one movie, The Cove. And they're not going in droves!
For those people who have seen the film, what do you suggest for them to do to get involved to stop this? I hate to sound like a broken record here, but this is a numbers game. The more people that see this film, the more ways it can be solved. So get other people to see it. The other thing is go to the site, and click on the action campaign. Take action. God, get involved with the environment. Get involved with your own life. You know what? In the film I say, if you're not an activist, you're an inactivist. It doesn't mean you have to be knocking down fences and burning down buildings. Become active in your own life, become active for the environment.
We're the only species on the planet that has been destructive to other species; throughout the history of time there have been five big extinctions in the history of the planet, and we're about to go through a sixth one right now, and it's human caused. The smart money on the planet believes we're facing this major catastrophe; in the next hundred years we're going to be losing all the coral reefs. What can you do about it? A lot! Just realize the way that you're getting energy. Looking at the OPS headquarters; we have 124 solar panels on the roof that generate 140% of our energy needs, which means the electric company gives me a check every month. We use two electric cars; one has a license plate that says VUS, Vehicle Using Sun, the opposite of SUV. The thing goes 80 miles and hour, 120 miles on a charge, and I plug it into the sun! The solutions are so simple. It's just reactive. I live in Colorado; we're living in the Saudi Arabia of alternative energy here. We have more sunshine than Florida. We've got great some great wind facilities that are starting to come up here, I just hope it's not too little too late. What can people do? Anything. Anything but what they're doing right now.