Winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, The Cove centres around the mass slaughter of dolphins in Japan which immediately means that it is going to be an emotive documentary and, for most, a tough watch. In reality whilst it is hard to endure, it is not entirely because of the subject matter.
In the small village of Taiji in Southern Japan, whaling exists as a means of income for the local fisherman as it does in many coastal areas of Japan. Whilst repulsive to much of the world, whaling has been commonplace for many years and continues to stir up controversy to outsiders due predominantly to their ignorance. Each year in Taiji, due to a unique isolated cove that has formed, an annual dolphin hunt is undertaken which is hidden from view by the high rock faces surrounding the cove on three sides. The hunt runs from September to April and results in the deaths of around 2,400 dolphins each year.
The Cove follows a team of activists wishing to expose the practice and highlight to the world the brutality of what occurs. Having experienced activists before, the local fisherman and police in Taiji are well versed at deflecting potential onlookers and due to high fences and restrictions, access to the cove is all but impossible. With seemingly endless supplies of equipment and money, the team arrive with the personnel and technology to plant cameras and sound devices in the right places during night time infiltrations and capture the footage from within the killing field.
Much of the film is devoted to this process and for a documentary it is genuinely quite exciting to see them circumvent the restrictions and covertly rig everything up under the cover of darkness with the fishermen and police none the wiser. In between these planning and execution phases, the plight of the dolphins is covered and various (mostly Western) people are interviewed about whaling and dolphin hunting. Footage is also shown of international whaling meetings illustrating Japan (and Norway’s) isolation in supporting the practice and corruptly bribing smaller nations to support them.
Whilst the footage collected from the dolphin hunt which is shown in the final act is barbaric, it has to be said that in a society where whales and dolphins are not considered special in any way, it is hard to attach a Western viewpoint to proceedings and give any sort of balanced picture. We consider cows to be suitable for slaughtering and eating whereas India considers them to be sacred and untouchable. If a set of Indian activists decided to film an abattoir in England and claim that immoral practices were occurring we would laugh at them. Ultimately this is no different.
The Cove is basically a propaganda piece for activists and whilst it is impossible as a Westerner to support slaughtering dolphins for food, that is only because of TV shows like Flipper and the way dolphins are perceived in popular culture over here rather than for any actual moral reasoning.
Many people would watch The Cove and give it 5 stars but ultimately they would be buying into the film makers point of view and no other. There are two sides to most stories and in this case perhaps more than ever it should be heard and considered rather than ignored and a call to arms issued. Competently crafted but frustrating.