The Cove is Louis Psihoyos’s documentary indictment of the Japanese dolphin trade, in which the mammals are herded—the preferred sold to Western aquariums (for $150,000) and the rest slaughtered, with their mercury-tainted meat then fed to an unsuspecting Japanese public. Much of the graphic violence was shot with hidden cameras, planted by Psihoyos and his crew the night before a dolphin slaughter. John Anderson spoke to Psihoyos, a former award-winning National Geographic photographer, before his film’s “New Directors” New York premiere.
Is the Japanese intractability regarding dolphin slaughter as insurmountable as it seems? And is it just cultural?
If you argue with the Japanese ministry of fishing about killing [a smart] animal for food, you get in all kinds of trouble, because cows are smart, pigs are smart—some cultures eat dogs. Inhumanity to animals is widespread. But we can leapfrog over that to an inhumanity-to-man issue, because the animals are toxic. We don’t even have to discuss the cruelty—that’s obvious. And if they’re toxic, why does the government encourage people to eat dolphins? The health ministry’s website encourages pregnant women to eat 80 grams of bottlenose dolphins every 60 days. It’s unconscionable.
The main problem isn’t really dolphin eating, though, is it?
If there weren’t a captive-dolphin industry, it wouldn’t pay for them to go out and hunt these animals. It’s a global industry because Westerners are great patrons of dolphin-ariums.
New Directors is an arts festival, and yours is an issue-driven film. Were you surprised to be accepted?
We were ecstatic, which is how you feel when your work can be shown at MOMA. Even the horrific parts are really kind of beautiful. I can say this because I didn’t shoot it—and nobody in the crew really shot it—but it contains some of the best cinematic moments in movie history. The one sequence is like the Zapruder film, except it goes on for five minutes. And the hidden cameras blew anything I did away. The crew was shooting the Citizen Kane of environmental films while they were sleeping.
What do you want The Cove to accomplish?
I would love to shut down the cove. And I’d like people to think twice before they go to a dolphin-arium. When you train these intelligent animals to do stupid human tricks, it says more about our intelligence than it does theirs.
“The Cove” screens March 28 and March 31