Gonzo spirit permeates ‘The Cove’ documentary on dolphins
August 27, 2009
ASPEN – Louis Psihoyos says some of the credit for his film, “The Cove,” goes to Hunter S. Thompson. Psihoyos, a Boulder photographer who shot images for the late Aspen icon’s 1995 book “Better Than Sex,” recalls Thompson’s advice that a journalist ought not be afraid to get involved in one’s own story. His initial thought was, “Sure, that works for Hunter Thompson … .” Yet in “The Cove,” his debut as a filmmaker, there is Psihoyos, weaving his own story of making the film in with the story being told.
Psihoyos gives Thompson a second level of credit for “The Cove.” Psihoyos remembers Bill Murray, at a memorial service for Thompson at the Hotel Jerome, saying “Hunter’s gone, and it’s up to us to carry on his legacy.”
No question, “The Cove” was made with the gonzo spirit. The film, which kicks off the MountainSummit festival with a 2:45 p.m. screening Thursday at the Wheeler Opera House, takes on Japanese dolphin slaughtering with the fearlessness that Thompson took on presidential candidate Edmund Muskie. “It was sort of channeling Hunter that led me to make this movie,” said Psihoyos.
The title of “The Cove” is intended to suggest a horror movie, and there is a frightening quality to the documentary. Psihoyos doesn’t shy away from depicting dolphins being killed by fishermen in the coastal Japanese village of Taiji, or the selling of the dolphin as whale meat, or the sky-high mercury levels of the dolphins, or the fact that the meat is fed to Japanese schoolchildren. But “The Cove” also works as an espionage thriller, an expose, a drama of redemption, even something of a love story between dolphins and humans.
“This is the ultimate chick flick and the ultimate guy movie combined,” said Psihoyos, who came to the project as executive director of the Boulder-based Ocean Preservation Society. “Guys want action, and from the very beginning, you know there’s going to be a crime. And this movie makes you feel.”
But perhaps “The Cove” – which has won numerous awards, including the Audience Award at the Sundance Festival – works best as a piece of environmental propaganda. On Monday, the city of Broome, Australia, severed its Sister Cities tie with Taiji in protest over the treatment of the dolphins.
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“It’s creating a legion of activists,” said Psihoyos.
Psihoyos finds “The Cove” to be upbeat. “You see that one passionate person can make the difference. A group of people can change the world,” he said.
But the film ends with a warning that, come this fall, Taiji’s fishermen will be back to slaughtering dolphins. Thanks to “The Cove,” though, it’s going to be far more difficult to hide the killing.
“It’s not going to be without major international condemnation,” said Psihoyos.