‘Cove’ director reacts to base ban

The Associated Press

The director of “The Cove” said Thursday that a decision by a U.S. military base in Japan to ban the Oscar-winning film on dolphin killings and protests at the local distributor’s office won’t silence the film’s message on saving dolphins.

“The Cove” documents the slaughter by fishermen in the western seaside town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, where some dolphins are captured and sold to aquariums while others are killed for their meat. The film has set off a flurry of debate, especially after it won the Oscar for best documentary at this year’s Academy Awards.

The government is adamant that whaling and dolphin hunts must continue for research and cultural purposes. But most Japanese have never eaten either meat and are shocked by the annual slaughter.

Yokota Air Base, a U.S. Air Force facility west of Tokyo, decided last week to cancel the screening at its theater to be “sensitive to local political and cultural concerns,” base spokesperson Mitsuru Takahashi said.

The movie’s director, Louie Psihoyos, said he will give away 100 DVDs of the movie to people at the base so they can see it.

“The military is facing a lot of pressure by our government to make nice of the Japanese,” he said by telephone from Boulder, Colo. “We are going to win this battle, with or without the U.S. military.”

The film has not yet opened in Japan, except at a festival and small screenings, and is set to be shown at theaters in June. The faces of the fishermen and many other people in the film are blurred out to protect their privacy.

In recent weeks, dozens of nationalist protesters with loudspeakers have shown up at the distributor’s central Tokyo office demanding the film not be shown. Some theaters may choose not to show the film simply to avoid trouble.

Psihoyos, executive director of the Oceanic Preservation Society, a nonprofit for protecting the environment, said he was hopeful Japanese will be interested in what he said was a warning in his movie about the health risks of eating dolphin meat, which has mercury contamination levels higher than fish.

“It’s not just about saving dolphins. It’s about saving humans,” he said. “This kind of information needs to be freed. We’re going to get it out there, one way or another.”

He has begun working on his next film, tentatively titled “The Singing Planet,” an overview about the destruction of nature, like coral reefs, and the rise of toxins in tuna and other ocean life.

Psihoyos is set to testify at a U.S. congressional hearing with the Committee on Natural Resources on Tuesday that will raise questions about the educational value of keeping marine animals in captivity.