The Cove director on watching his film with the dolphin hunters

cove_xlg.jpgThe Cove, the provocative film that documented the hidden dolphin slaughters in Taiji, Japan, made its Japan debut at the Tokyo International Film Festival this week, and director Louie Psihoyos was there to bear witness to its unveiling. I talked to him just two hours after he got off the airplane from Narita on Thursday morning. Here's what he had to say about his experience in watching the film with the actual dolphin killers in the audience:

All the bad guys there, front row center. The mayor, the International Whaling Committee delegate, fishermen dressed up in suits…I couldn't have dreamed of a better screening. They had all come to Tokyo with their lawyers to see if there would be any kind of litigation against the film. The screening sold out within a few hours, so I offered to give them tickets. At one point, the mayor stormed out, and the IWC delegate held his head in his hands.

I thought I might get arrested when I got off the airplane in Tokyo — there are arrest warrants out for me in Taiji for things like trespassing, conspiracy to disrupt commerce, and photographing undercover police. I was invited by the TIFF, though, so that's probably what kept me safe.

Stories about dolphin hunting have been taboo in Japan for the past 30 years. The only reason this film was able to show there this week was because the Liberal Democratic Party was voted out. The government is a major sponsor of the film festival, and about two weeks after the regime change, the festival's director contacted me and said, "Given the 'environment' theme of this year's film festival, it would be hypocritical not to show The Cove." Still, the festival did seem to bury it — we had a 10:30AM screening and not a single promotional poster in sight.

All the Japanese who approached me about the film had very positive things to say about it. It was mostly young people, 18-35 year olds. They said, how can I help you get this film out in Japan? I think many were in shock. I told them that this was just the Disney version of what really happens at the cove.

During the Q&A session, I pointed out that this is not just an animal rights film, but that these dolphins have about 5000 times more mercury than allowed by Japanese law. Unfortunately, it's not enough to argue that these are the only animals in human history that have saved humans. The only way we can save them is by reminding people that human beings have made their environment so toxic that we can't eat them anymore. The question of intelligence of other animals as judged by our own intelligence is such a specie-centric thing. We're about to go through our sixth major extinction now, so how smart does that make us really?

I think the most important thing that could happen is that the film would show in Taiji. I've sent them a formal letter to see if they'd like to do an ocean-themed film festival at a national park that would include The Cove. I also told the Taiji mayor and councilmen that all profits generated from the film in Japan would go directly to the dolphin hunters if they stopped their dolphin hunting. I would gladly support them if they switch to crab hunting or whale watching.

I was only in Japan for two days — the whole thing was so surreal. At Sundance earlier this year, people thought that this movie would never screen in Japan. Now there are two major distributors in Japan negotiating for the rights. And flying back over the Pacific today, I knew there are now several thousand dolphins swimming free because of this movie.