halfway through the day, stop a movie halfway through. What do you see?
About 45 minutes into the soon-to-be Oscared documentary The Cove, we pause for a lecture on mercury poisoning. Basically it goes like this: dolphins swim in a toxic dump site, their bodies have too much mercury in them, it's not safe for us to eat them. Ewww times two. I don't like to think about toxic dumps or dolphin-eating.
I totally didn't need to know that dolphin meat was poisonous to be convinced that they shouldn't be eaten, thank you very much.
I have all sorts of issues, defendable and otherwise, with documentaries each year. It's difficult to explain but I'll try. With narrative filmmaking I feel like I'm mostly aware of what I'm watching and of how the movie is choosing to approach its subject and tell its story. With documentaries I often feel like I'm behind some invisible curve and without a ton of research on my own I have no clue in which ways I'm being manipulated and what is being left out of the argument or shoehorned in. What I'm reacting to, then, is not the filmmaking so much as the subject matter and spin. I'm guessing Oscar voters are this way too since they're choice of "best" each year is noticeably dependent on the likability or "importance" of the subject matter. I wholeheartedly endorse the likeability of dolphins and the importance of not killing them but I didn't always know if the movie was great.
The movie made me feel guilt above all else: Guilt for loving dolphins (our mass love of the ever-smiling animals has inadvertently caused the captivity and slaughter problem), guilt for being squeamish (I literally couldn't watch the damning slaughter climax. I left the room just like I did at the dolphin killing scene in White Squall many years ago) guilt even for previously hating Hayden Panetierre (!). Her appearance took me by surprise because I tend to ignore the pockets of pop culture that follow the every move of bad actors or tv stars. I had no idea that she was actually an activist, bless her. The shot of her dismay when she realizes she can't save the dolphins is the only time she's ever made me feel anything onscreen. I can't even talk about I Love You Beth Cooper. Don't get me started.
When The Cove wasn't making me feel guilty it was celebrating my love of cute animals and my love of the power of movies. Movie making technology plays a heroic role here and The Cove itself hopes too. Both of those realities will lock it in for an Oscar win, I think, no matter what its competition turns out to be when the nominees are announced in February. Because who in Hollywood wouldn't like to think of the movies as a force of good in the world?