Filmmakers, activists, and other experts join forces on The Cove, a documentary that exposes the brutal killing of dolphins in Taiji, Japan.
When director Louie Psihoyus decided to bring Colorado-based cinematographer Brooke Aitken aboard The Cove as the director of photography, he weighed Aitken’s agility and athleticism as carefully as he did his technical expertise. “We needed people who were more like pirates because we were essentially breaking and entering.”
Their target was a a heavily guarded cove in Taiji, Japan, where an estimated 2,300 dolphins are slaughtered every year as part of an effort to locate bottlenose females, which are in demand at marine parks around the world. After luring scores of dolphins away from their migratory path, the fishermen herd the creators into the cover; separate out the bottlenose females; and spear the rest of the animals to death and sell the meat, which contains toxic levels of mercury. Led by Richard O’Barry, who trained dolphins for TV’s Flipper in the 1960s, conservationists have attempted to stop the slaughter, but so far they have failed.
When Psihoyus, a top National Geographic photographer, cofounded the Oceanic Preservation Society (based in Boulder) with diving buddy Jim Clark, the venture capitalist behind Silicon Graphics and Netscape. The Cove is an OPS project, and as mission-driven documentaries go, it was lacking in neither funds nor talent.
To make the movie, which took close to three years, Psihoyos assembled what he called an “Oceans 11” team. In addition to O'Barry, his collaborators included an electronics whiz who customized some of the cameras; expert mold-makers who created camera housing that could pass for native rocks; two champion free-divers who placed cameras and hydrophones underwater at night; and Aitken, who had to ensure that everyone knew the essentials of camera operation since everyone was shooting. "Traditional roles went out the window pretty quickly," Aitken says. [...]
Published in the August 2009 issue of American Cinematographer.