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March 21, 2010

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Dolphin harvest's graphic message

THOUGH winning an Oscar is the holy grail for most film makers, Louie Psihoyos, director of the winning documentary "The Cove," saw it as a way to draw attention to Japan's widespread dolphin fishing and slaughter.

The US film about a controversial annual dolphin hunt from the Japanese town Taiji garnered the best documentary feature at the recent 82nd Academy Awards.

Using concealed cameras and microphones, Psihoyos graphically depicted the cruelty of Japanese fishermen using sonar devices to herd the dolphins into a cove, where they were slaughtered. Each year, more than 20,000 dolphins are killed.

Co-producer Charles Hambleton (pictured below) visited the 2010 China Top 10 Eco Heroes Award and Green Leaders Summit last week, and spoke about the film's behind-the-scenes production stories.

Q: You said there were a lot of technical difficulties during the shooting. How long did it take you to produce the film and how did you overcome them?

A: "The Cove" was filmed over a three-year period involving multiple trips to Japan and other beautiful locations around the world. It took about a year in post production - finishing within an hour before premiering at the Sundance Film Festival - and almost another year before the theatrical release. It looks like the covert action happened in two nights but it was far more complicated. Everything in the movie is real but editorially it would be difficult (and tedious) to explain why so many visits were needed. We were persistent and designed or altered equipment to be used in unconventional ways. To overcome the challenges of filming in remote areas in somewhat tense situations, we enlisted Kerner Optical (Industrial Light & Magic) to create fake rocks that mimicked the natural rocks inside the cove - except they contained high-definition cameras. We also used a thermal imaging camera to see at night. World champion free-divers placed hydrophones.

Q: What kind of messages is the film intended to convey?

A: The process is inhumane. In 2010, nobody needs to be killing whales and if we don't start cleaning up our oceans and our planet, our species is in great peril. Mercury and other toxins are killing us. Ric O'Barry (American dolphin freedom campaigner) has provided inspiration to all of us.

Q: What does an Oscar mean to the film?

A: Winning an Oscar was a wonderful validation that "The Cove" touches many people, including those that have been making movies for a long time. "The Cove" was also the first non-fiction feature film to win all movie Guild awards; the writers, editors, directors and producers. The best thing about even being nominated for an Oscar is that the Academy Awards is the most-watched television program of the year in Japan - and that's the audience we want to reach.

Q: What is the importance for a developing country like China to keep a balance between economic growth and nature?

A: Though every culture is different, economic growth and respect for the environment do not have to be mutually exclusive. They can be symbiotic.

Q: You're a talented producer. In your eyes, what's the most important thing for a film or a documentary?

A: "The Cove" was the team's first movie. The movie-making experience came from producers Paula DuPre Presman and Fisher Stevens, writer Mark Monroe, and editor Geoffrey Richman. Composer J. Ralph created a magical score. I think everyone involved learned quite a bit about passionate storytelling that can really make a difference.

Q: Can you say more things about your subsequent movies?

A: There are several projects in the works, all quite different but still environmental. We are not walking away from issues brought to light in "The Cove," but expounding on them in different ways.

Q: Are you considering to work with Chinese film makers or make a film about China in the future?

A: There are no specific plans to make a film about China but it certainly is an exciting time to see China's green seeds growing.


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