Seaspiracy is a documentary from the same people who brought us Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, which was backed by celebrity environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. Following the same naming convention, Seaspiracy also challenges the notion of sustainability by challenging the commercial fishing industry and marine watch dog agencies. Directed by Ali Tabrizi and co-directed by his partner Lucy, the marine life documentary starts by framing Ali’s efforts to be a better human being. Recycling, donating to causes, picking up litter on the beach… he was doing what most environmentally-aware people gravitate towards.
Having nurtured a childhood love for the ocean, specifically around whales and dolphins, the award-winning The Cove documentary in 2009 must have inspired the young filmmaker. Picking up the trail of so many of his heroes, Ali and Lucy decide to investigate Taiji for themselves. Setting in motion an infotaining thriller with espionage elements, Tabrizi uses Taiji as his launchpad. It’s as if the documentarian was setting up a 10 years later follow-up to The Cove, where Japanese fishermen continue to kill dolphins. Heavily policed and monitored, probably even more so following the explosive 2009 documentary, it’s horrific that nothing’s really changed.
Not getting extensive footage of the bay under difficult circumstances, Seaspiracy splinters into a multi-pronged investigation of the global fishing industry and practices. Starting with a fishing village harbour near Taiji, the documentarians uncover more startling fishing operations in relation to blue fin tuna. Japan are the tip of the iceberg, recommencing commercial whaling after 30 years and flouting regulations and international agencies. Purportedly killing dolphins to get fish numbers up, the finger-pointing and hypocrisy becomes the undercurrent of Seaspiracy, which stumbles onto bigger contributors to population and over-fishing.
The film is essentially several documentaries rolled into one. Tagging onto the legacy of excellent documentaries like The Cove and even Blackfish, it trails in their wake, exploring threats to the ocean, flaws within the system and complications from a consumerism point-of-view. While scattershot in picking its various vantage points, the underlying thrust of sustainability is there. Each “mini documentary” feature within the 90 minute running time contributes to the big picture with each thread pulling together quite succinctly.
“Shark fin soup. Sounds like a Spinal Tap album.”
Tabrizi harnesses the opinions of marine authors, experts and scientists from across the world to support his view. Consulting Sea Shepherd, Dolphin Project and interviewing the likes of Callum Roberts, Paul de Gelder, Ric O’Barry and Sylvia Earle, it’s a healthy cross-section of marine conservancies and pundits. Tackling everything from overfishing, fish farming, ocean bed damage, lack of protected areas, label fraud and even slavery… Seaspiracy is a whirlwind tour of what our species is doing to harm the ocean’s ecosystem and our own food security. Sleek visuals, handsome graphics, statistic charts, undercover footage, globetrotting and varied interviews are interwoven with Tabrizi’s voice-over offering continuity whether interviewing or narrating. The filmmaker is passionate and his interview questions are brilliant, putting subjects to the test as they reach for words.
Subsequent to its release, Seaspiracy has been criticised for using some comments out of context and has had its research brought into question. Relying on headlines and focusing on key excerpts, Tabrizi has constructed a slick piece of documentary storytelling. Starting with comments from interviewees who warn the filmmaker to be careful for his life, there’s a conspiratorial air of danger to his investigation, getting turned down for interviews by many of the agencies who should hope to punt their operations. Questioning everything, Seaspiracy is controversial in its approach, uncovering the money trail and presenting shocking statistics to back up its claims.
The documentary is incredibly ambitious, trying to load the content of several documentaries or a TV series into the space of 90 minutes. While it operates like a trailer for a much broader work, it largely succeeds in creating a quick-paced and fluid overview of its most salient points with mouth-dropping and visceral footage. It’s a non-stop thrill ride, peppering you with information, beautiful visuals and using emotional storytelling and even dramatised animation to land blows. While the research and some interview content may be skewed, there’s plenty of smoke emanating from this intrepid investigation. Ultimately winding its way to a list of ways to buck the status quo and work towards sustainability, it’s ripple effect will be felt through the fishing industry.
Casting doubt on government subsidies, dolphin-safe labels, protection agencies and the very concept of sustainability, it seems a much-needed shake up is in order. The documentary is entertaining and compelling enough to get viewers to reconsider their own dietary habits and promote environment-conscious living. While it may skip over issues a bit quickly and stir things up, the main thrust is exploratory and in pursuit of positive change. If watching this documentary makes you think twice about the ocean, its inhabitants and your consumer habits… it’s achieved its noble quest.
The bottom line: Startling