Film festival opens with ballsy Blackfish, proves commitment to indie excellence with week-long of cinematic gems

Posted on April 8, 2013



Members of the film with director Gabriela Cowperthwaite at the screening of Blackfish at Sarasota Film Festival Friday, April 5. Photo by Eric Raddatz / Florida Weekly

The 15th annual Sarasota Film Festival is underway with over 200 independent films playing through the week. If the opening weekend is any indication, you are pretty much guaranteed excellent cinematic offerings.

The opening night film Blackfish, has screened publicly now only three times and was a ballsy selection for the opener. The film opens with the 911 call from SeaWorld, Orlando where their most expert orca whale trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was killed by the majestic 12,000 pound Tilikum. Initially labeled an accident, the tune shortly changed as witnesses began speaking publicly about what they saw, which was a very graphic, ravage attack, as the autopsy later proved.

Why would a killer whale do such a thing? Well, for starters, it is because it is a KILLER whale. Duh.

Picture 3The question as to when, if ever, it is appropriate to have such wild predators in captivity, is delved into with excellent research from leading experts who explain a very sophisticated social structure surrounding these very intelligent creatures. The film also delivers footage never seen before, following Tilikum from infancy when he was extracted from his home as a baby in Iceland in the 80s through his adult life during which he has killed three humans while in captivity and siring many other whales for big profit.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite at the screening of Blackfish at Sarasota Film Festival Friday, April 5. Photo by Eric Raddatz / Florida Weekly

Gabriela Cowperthwaite at the screening of Blackfish at Sarasota Film Festival Friday, April 5. Photo by Eric Raddatz / Florida Weekly

With footage from international performances, statistics from dozens of incidents of orca aggression and several retired trainers who worked with the limp-finned killer Tilikum, this eye-opening film will be a serious splash on the industry. Just what effect the movie was intended to provoke the director left ambivalent when questioned directly. “I just pointed the camera and focused on what I was seeing. I will let others decide what to do. But I know what I would do,” Gabriela Cowperthwaite said from stage. When asked privately just how she got all of the footage she credited being diligent. “Sometimes you have to be the squeekiest wheel to get what you want.”

SeaWorld, owned by Blackstone, had filed for a U.S. IPO in December looking to go public this year, but may face a challenge now according to Samantha Berg, former trainer in attendance Friday night and featured in the film. When asked to disclose any things outstanding that could impact the company financially she said they disclosed “the court case with OSHA, this film Blackfish and the book ‘Death at Seaworld’ by David Kirby, all of which we’ve been involved with.”Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. were leading the offering, according to recent regulatory filings before this opening with SeaWorld hoping to get somewhere in the $500 million range. There is no certainty as to how exactly SeaWorld might change their policies but Tilikum till this day performs there. For the trailer head to The film has been picked up by Magnolia Pictures and should see a greater release this summer.

Picture 2Another winner, showing strength in independent film, Citizen Koch follows the Scott Walker Wisconsin election and shows the nuts and bolts of how David and Charles Koch with Americans For Prosperity are looking to influence elections with cash. After a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, unprecedented and unclaimed billions have gone into funding federal and state elections. Why? Producers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin will let you decide through the eyes of three concerned citizens who find themselves alienated from their political party by such changes. When asked if there has been any pushback there was an indication there will be no comment. When asked if there were any death threats Carl just said “nothing credible.” For more on the film head to The movie which premiered at Sundance this year should be in distribution by summertime.

-1I was excited to see Venus and Serena and had no idea they had won so many tournaments. They were not in attendance, sadly, but their story was a genuine look at the legacy they have achieved. Starting at a very young age the siblings have had their eyes on success, with unprecedented talent in their field you would have no idea of their achievements simply from the modest family-centered lifestyles they seem to conduct when not playing. It was heartwarming to see their care and concern for each other all while rooting each other on, even while playing against each other. With cameos from Spike Lee, Bill Clinton, Chris Rock and more. For more go to

There are literally hundreds more to go see. I suggest you check out Twenty Feet From Stardom, It Felt Like Love and the Crash Reel, all which played at Sundance this year. Also getting a buzz from director Tomas Michael Hall is the closing night film to accompany the filmmaker awards Frances Ha.

You will no doubt see me there for these and more as Sarasota continues its commitment to indie excellence. For more on scheduling, ticket pricing and more head to

—Eric Raddatz is the presentation editor for Florida Weekly with an overactive love for indie film having founded both the Naples and Fort Myers Film Festivals, while currently directing the latter. Follow Eric at

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