A while ago I was lucky enough to sit down, one on one with Louie Psihoyos the director of the must see film, The Cove. I keep hearing people say to me, “I can’t handle a film about killing dolphins.” Well take it from a person who has saved many animals, big and small, and can’t stand gore; if you love animals you will love this film. If you loved Ocean’s 11, you will love this film. If you’re interested in seeing something that WILL affect you, you will love this film.
Thanks to Psihoyos, this film does not (I repeat DOES NOT) offend but encourages and dare I say inspires people who love animals and film. Mainly this is due to it’s focus, instead of making it about the killing, he focuses on how a group of people come together and risk their lives to try and to something good.
It’s an amazing film that I can’t say enough good things about. Check out the interview below…
I saw the movie and thought it would be too much for me, but the amount of actual violence that you show is so minimal and the rest of the film is fun, it’s entertaining, it’s a thrill ride, it’s almost like an Ocean’s Eleven, but real life.
LP: That’s how I look at it and you tell your readers that it’s a PG-13, we could have made this a darker movie, but I didn’t want to. You know the point was not to gross people out. I mean, it’s so hard to talk about the slaughter footage, but in an odd way it’s really tastefully done, you actually never see a dolphin get stabbed, you see– the actual point of impact– but never, in an odd way and this is going to sound really strange, it’s so surreal it’s almost like a Dali painting that comes alive or– to me it’s very surreal and very traffic and I hate to use the word beautiful because it’s not beautiful it’s horrible, it’s a horrid image of what goes on there, but some of the imagery– When we saw it, it has this fascinating affect that it has a, embedded in the movie because it sort of comes out to the culmination towards the end of the movie, but it doesn’t feel that, you know– it feels like you’ve been ready for a perfect night, but it’s such a small percentage of the movie and its not at all what it’s about, it’s a, it is more of an Ocean’s Eleven film.
Bringing together a team of law-breakers to do something awesome?
I mean, it’s exactly that. It’s about bringing this eccentric band of activists together to penetrate this secret lagoon is what it’s about as part of this, you know most of the story. You know, Mandy-Rae Cruikshank, this incredible world champion free diver, Simon Hutchins this military expert for the Canadian Airforce doing this for us, the Lucas connection with Industrial Light and Magic, your hometown boys, Hollywood folks helping us make the fake rocks.
Then there was Charles Hambleton, who is a pirate, he– I heard about him, he was my assistant for 10 years, but he’s worked for pirates of the Caribbean, he’s worked with Gore Verbinski teaching pirates how to be pirates and now he’s coming to work with me to infiltrate “the cove,” you know? That’s what I always said, we didn’t need filmmakers to make this film, we needed pirates and we got him. The joke on the set was that we’re all professionals just not at this.
Most people look at this film and all they think is that it’s about killing, dolphins but its about so much more, there is so much information that we can’t turn out backs on because it is literally killing us…
LP: Yeah, the first thing we’re trying to achieve with the movie is let’s save the dolphins, you know, this is their Auschwitz, let’s stab that. The next horror is that it’s not just dolphins and whales that are toxic it’s all the things that we like to eat. And it’s not just that they’re becoming toxic it’s just that we’re doing it. I mean, we’re doing what no wild animal will do, we’re following from our own nest, that’s the bigger message. It’s not just a Japanese problem, it’s a human problem and, you know, in that way, The Cove is not just about the Cove, it’s a metaphor for what’s going on in the oceans. That to me was the point. If you did a movie of what’s wrong with the oceans it sort of becomes this sort of doomsday project, I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to make a movie that I wanted to make.
Five years ago my kids were watching too much television meaning they were suppose to be doing homework and I told them that for I don’t know how man times that they weren’t suppose to watch anymore TV. So I followed through, I cut off all the ends of the television sets, all the ends of the cable and literally we haven’t had a television in the house for five years. It gave me this sort of a barometer of the kind of movie I wanted to make. It’s like okay, you’re not going to your kids to watch television in this stupid, but now I want to raise the bar for myself. So I said, okay, “what kind of movie would you make, big shot, Mr. Never-made-a-movie-before-in-your-life.” I wanted to make a movie that was going to make them proud, you know, make me proud of myself to make something that wasn’t just two hours and a box of popcorn, I wanted to make a film that raised the bar for myself, raised the bar for the standard, for the whole genre.
At some point I realized I could be really delusional, I’ve never made a film before, but what makes you think I can do that? In fact the guy that gave me the money said the same thing, he said, “what makes you think you can make a movie?” Thank god I believed in myself because I think it really pays off. I realize I could have been delusional, you know, making this film, but when I went to Sundance and I saw the reaction, I mean, I was outstanded–it’s one thing to go off and say you’re going to make a film that’s going to be good and have these goals, but then to actually see it working with the audience, where the last 20 minutes of that film are, I think they’re spectacular. It’s great to hear that people are laughing, they’re crying, they’re cheering, and then they’re asking what they can do to help. It’s like what more could you want out of a film? I’ve never seen it happen with a film before, I mean The Inconvenient Truth was a powerful experience for me and that was a slideshow, this is a much more interesting thrill ride, I think, but not to compare the two, I love that film and I love the goals it did to try to achieve, but we’re tying to do something similar with the oceans, but by telling the problems through this one little cove.
How did your past experience at National Geographic help with the film?
When I worked at National Geographic, we always did these stories that were epic, you know, I did stories like on Mesozoic life, the planet, you know, the people in the Visintine Empire. I’m use to trying to take these big complex subjects and trying to reduce them down to iconic images and in that way, The Cove was kind of like that were you take these dolphins and whales, something that we all love, I love ‘em, but then you have these amazing, I mean really– some of the footage was some of the most beautiful footage that I think was ever shot by underwater photographers– filmmakers. I mean, the shots of Mandy diving with the whales and the dolphins that brings tears to my eyes, still when I see it, that stuff is just so gorgeous because she looks like a dolphin, she looks like a mermaid with a mono-fin, then you see this whale turning– this 54 foot humpback whale turning on its belly so they could look at Mandy with both eyes. It’s is so beautiful and then what happens in the next scene in the cove, you know, it’s no an accident that those get butted up against each other so you have this, the beauty and the horror, where the one dolphin escapes from the cove.
Mark Monroe, the writer did a wonderful job with story telling, we had a lot, 600 hours of footage and no script, the script was in my head and it was to him to like, “what were you thinking?” And so now I’m trying to describe scenes like in a motional term, because, you know he’s thinking in his head, “like okay what am I going to say about this?” You don’t need to say anything sometimes, let the images– there’s a lot of power in those images when you just let them ride-out with the music. To me, the sounds of what happens in the cove that’s, what a wicked soundtrack that is, you just let reality take over and you just watch the footage, you know, it burns. The last 20 minutes I think it just burns you your retinas. Sometimes I rent a movie, and I think, Oh I already saw this one before, you ever do that?
LP: Well, I don’t think anyone is going to say that with The Cove. This is a movie that’s going to absolutely unforgettable and it’s a movie that is impossible to forget once you see it. Mainly because Mark Monroe and Geoffrey Richman did an incredible job putting together all of this footage and making a film. John Fortes said, making a film is a lot like painting a picture with an army, this film was like making a film with a swat team, we had like the best of the best of the best working for us, so it’s a pleasure to be working with such high talent, I mean, I was lucky to fall in with the best documentary filmmakers in the world to help me nurse the second long, I couldn’t have done it by myself.
It almost seems as Cops and Robbers, when you were a kid, only now you have people like ILM supporting you. What was it like to be part of the Ocean’s 11 team you were filming?
LP: The movie is a result of watching to many James Bond movies as a child, I mean, it really is a wonderful blend of that. I got to buy all the toys and play with them and then we went to play Ocean’s Eleven, but it was for a higher goal. I love Soderbergh, I love all his movies, but this is not two hours and a box of popcorn, this movie was set out to try to change the world so it’s like. We really are on a mission to try to save the planet. Jim Clark guy that financed my movie,he’s a billionaire, he said, “you need a really simple mission statement” and I said,” Okay, we’ll let’s see, we’re not trying to save the whole planet, just 70% of it.” Because as you know the oceans covers 70% of the planet, and I am on a mission to try to save the planet, we’re not just killing dolphins, we’re not just toxifying our seafood, we’re also destroying ourselves.
We only have a few decades to turn things around at the most. When we say in the movie that science magazine report we’re going to loose all the major fish markets by the year 2048, it doesn’t mean that by 2047 you say, “Okay let’s lay off the for a couple of years and this is, we have to start thinking about that now.” Instead of fighting the oceans, you know, we’re going to loose most of the coral reese by the year 2100, if not all of that. These models that they have for how fast things are bad, they don’t work at these epic proportions, you can’t predict that kind of stuff. These feedback loops, we’re loosing a lot quicker than we thought we are because we have a perfect storm — you’re accidifying it, you’re polluting it, you’re warming it up, a two degree senegrade changes in the reefs is enough to kill them. Some of them can survive, but then you add pollution into the mix and then acidification.
What’s happening is that every generation is adapting to diminishment, it’s being destroyed more and more by the generation previous. The purpose of this film is to sort of wake people up, that we are destroying– every ocean lover should see this film, everybody should see this film. I think Hollywood has these really strong demographics, is this for women, or is this for guys, it’s like I’ve seen big burly guys seeing this movie with their girlfriends, and they’re all crying. There’s something in it for everybod. To me the film feels– it has a powerful message, but it’s set up like a thriller, you know from the opening seconds, we’re I say, I just want to we try to do the story legally (snap) I think just about everybody is in, because everyone wants to see somebody break the law, on film.
Most documentary filmmakers when they go into a project that I’ve spoken to always say that it changes, but it seemed like you had a very view going into it. What got thrown at you that you had to change, or did you just keep filing through and you knew exactly what you wanted?
LP: Well we knew we wanted to get into The Cove, but we didn’t have a plan when we got there and we didn’t intend to put ourselves in the movie either so I wouldn’t say we started with a clear vision. We actually started with four different films– one was on dolphins, one was on whales, one was on overfishing, one was on tuna. But when I first say the first covert footage, that was the day– Charles had set this, that camera up and it captured these guys talking around a campfire, that’s when I thought, we have a way to combine them all together and that sort of crystalized in my head. I mean from that moment forward I had a pretty clear idea of what we were going to do. But that was about a year into the film. We knew– Richard O’Barry was this amazing character, you know, just his whole back story and this story of redemption, I mean it brings tears to your eyes, my generation were we grew up on “Flipper” and then to see The Cove, you know, the Cove is like, when we went to Taiji, it was like walking into a Steven King novel, you know were everything was just so, bizarre that the stuff was going on around you. We love dolphins and whales, but there’s this Cove in the center town where there’s the largest slaughter of dolphins in the world, it’s like “Oh my god, it’s so much going on right there.” When I did the stories for National Geographic, you know, the stories were life in the crack of the sidewalk and it never got pulled off, but was that was the objective, if you look close enough at something you can see the whole world as a microcosm. When I did stories for them it was like that, okay you can’t do the whole Mesozoic, but you can do, these sort of, these iconic images that somehow encapsulate and tell these stories about these pieces of the Mesozoic and that’s what the movie is.
That’s it for now! Go see The Cove in theaters now!