Note From Jon


Monday, March 17, 2008

"Smuggling Friendship"

I was bound to like Saving Luna, the documentary about a wayward killer whale… I mean Orca, that I saw as part of the Environmental Film Festival—after all I have a fondness for adventurous sea mammals, like Chessie the Manatee who used to go on holiday up the Eastern seaboard and bump the sailboats in the Chesapeake Bay around a bit, or more recently Manny the Manatee who decided that it was perfectly reasonable to take a 700 mile vacation up the Mississippi River… all the way to Memphis (just discovered while grabbing a link that there's not such a happy ending there...)—but I was still surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie.

The filmmakers’ website has an overview of the documentary that describes it eloquently, and even has some additional notes that aren’t in the movie, although it does give away the ending a bit (just like my friend from The Ocean Conservancy did for me the night before I saw it, thanks Sarah!).

While just the raw footage of Luna befriending people—despite the best (worst?) efforts of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to prevent it—would be captivating and charming to watch, the filmmakers made an invaluable contribution to Luna and to the storytelling. Husband and wife team, Mike Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm (who were in attendance at the screening), morph a three week journalistic assignment into a three-year biography of their friend Luna who “happens to be a whale”. Despite their eventual bias, the film definitely gives a sense of all of the challenges faced when people encounter a “Solitary Sociable” like Luna, and it’s easy to see how different parties feel that their approach is the right one (although not surprisingly I came away agreeing with the filmmakers in the end!).

Mike Parfit did an exceptional job as both script writer and narrator. I was sure he was a hired narrator, but he wasn’t, and it was so compelling to be able to have the story told in a first-person voice. Although the script could have easily been overpowered by the incredible story itself and its show-stealing star, the brilliant writing was not obscured. Countless times Mike took a behavior or a situation and coined (or captured) a memorable phrase that was later used to cleverly and concisely recall that memory. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Luna developed the game “Stealth Whale” where he would just pop up next to a boat in response to boats being mandated to keep their distance from him.
  • Luna liked to “Play Bruno” (apparently based on a character from a TV show The Beachcombers I haven’t seen) and work for the logging company by pushing around 40-foot timbers like his friends who drove the tugs.
  • Watching the epic “Tug-of-whale” between the “Luna Flotilla”—the canoes of the First Nations—and the Department, who are trying to lure him into a net for relocation back to his pod (or possibly to an aquarium). The First Nations believe Luna is their chief that died the week he arrived (and claimed he would return as a killer whale) and they paddle out every day during the Tug-of-whale battle and sing to Luna as he follows their flotilla for miles… away from his friends in the other boat who are trying to lead him into the net pen.

But these are the quotes, as best I can remember, that really summed up the movie for me:

  • “Scientists know whales like child psychologists know children, in abstract detail, the people [in the community who befriended him] know him like parents know one child”
  • “Relationships among Orcas are consistent and they last”, whereas Luna’s interactions with humans were terribly inconsistent, due to the constantly changing attitudes and approaches of the stakeholders trying to save him.

  • But perhaps most touching was watching Mike and Suzanne, and so many others in the community, who were “smuggling friendship” into Luna’s life.

If you’re in Bermuda, Florida, Texas, or Montana… or if Saving Luna plays “Stealth Whale” in your city, make a point of going to see this great documentary.

1 comment:

Cold Spaghetti said...

Ummmm.... Smiley??

Glad to see you've got the soft side for watery beasts.