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Friday, July 19, 2013

SeaWorld Launches Preemptive Strike Against 'Blackfish'

I mentioned sometime back that I was really disappointed with our last trip to SeaWorld. The excitement has completely drained out of that park, and the attractions have been turned into wannabe Cirque du Soleil people-driven circuses rather than animal-driven water shows. Clearly, the concerns for the welfare of the sea life has overtaken concern for the quality of performances. And while I love the animals and wouldn't want harm done to them, it's pretty amazing how the animal rights movement has destroyed this once majestic family entertainment complex.

In any case, it's probably better in the last analysis, although SeaWorld's fighting back in this case.

See, "Seaworld’s Unusual Retort to a Critical Documentary":

SAN DIEGO — Hollywood has just cast SeaWorld as a bad guy. But SeaWorld has decided to diverge from the story line.

In an unusual pre-emptive strike on the documentary “Blackfish,” set for release on Friday in New York and Los Angeles by Magnolia Pictures, SeaWorld Entertainment startled the film world last weekend by sending a detailed critique of the movie to about 50 critics who were presumably about to review it. It was among the first steps in an aggressive public pushback against the film, which makes the case, sometimes with disturbing film, that orca whales in captivity suffer physical and mental distress because of confinement.

Magnolia and the film’s director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, shot back with a point-by-point rebuttal in defense of the movie.

The exchange is now promising to test just how far a business can, or should, go in trying to disrupt the powerful negative imagery that comes with the rollout of documentary exposés. That kind of dilemma has surfaced with previous documentaries like “The Queen of Versailles,” which last year portrayed the lavish lifestyle of the real estate moguls Jackie and David Siegel, and even with narrative films like “The Social Network,” which took an unflattering look at Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in 2010.

Businesses accused of wrongdoing in films often choose to lie low, hoping the issues will remain out of the public mainstream and eventually fade away without much fuss. That’s especially true of documentaries, which generally have small audiences.

SeaWorld, advised by the communications firm 42West, which is better known for promoting films than punching back at them, is taking the opposite approach. By midweek, the company was providing top executives and animal caretakers for interviews about the movie and its purported flaws. It was also deliberating possible further moves, which might conceivably include informational advertising, a Web-based countercampaign or perhaps a request for some sort of access to CNN, which picked up television rights to “Blackfish” through its CNN Films unit and plans to broadcast the movie on Oct. 24.

Among other things, SeaWorld claims that “Blackfish,” which focuses on the orca Tilikum’s fatal 2010 attack on a trainer, Dawn Brancheau, exceeded the bounds of fair use by incorporating training film and other video shot by the company. The company also contends that Ms. Cowperthwaite positioned some scenes to create what SeaWorld executives see as a false implication of trouble or wrongdoing.

Asked whether SeaWorld was contemplating legal action against the film, G. Anthony Taylor, the general counsel, said decisions about any such step would have to wait until executives were able to more closely assess the movie. “Blackfish” made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has since screened at other festivals in the United States and abroad.
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