Keiko Goes to Amelia Island: A Film Review
Island Art Association screening 2/25/2011
“Keiko The Untold Story” was a simple, beautiful mixture of the captivating saga of one orca and a comprehensive lesson on all orcas. It drew the audience member into the story, and made it impossible for him not to cheer, cry, and hope along with Keiko and his caretakers. Though the film will certainly appeal most to those who have followed Keiko’s story all along, it manages to make the subject matter relevant to anyone who has an appreciation for animals, for freedom, and for the triumph of human and orca spirit alike.
Keiko: The Untold Story is a film that chronicles the amazing journey of Keiko, the orca whale who was captured at the tender age of two, spent years with declining health in various tanks of the poorest conditions. Cast for the lead role aside a child actor, Keiko was abruptly catapulted to international stardom in the 1993 release of the Warner Bros. film, Free Willy.
“KeikoDoc,” as it is commonly known among creators and fans, played at the Island Art Association in beautiful downtown Fernandina Beach, FL, on Feb. 25, as part of the 2011 Amelia Island Film Festival. I was excited to see it, as I had nurtured a lifelong love for Keiko.
In the minutes leading up to the screening, a variety of festival attendees began filtering in. Some were just independent film lovers who wanted to see everything, and some had come specifically for Keiko.
“We’ve had an ongoing interest in Keiko and his story, and we sort of got lost after he went to Iceland,” said Gail Brown, from Ontario, who was visiting Florida for the month with her husband. “I wasn’t sure whether he’d died, or been released. I think his story was so tragic, but I think the intervention gave him more than he ever would have had.”
The 74-minute film played out like a movie, mixing Keiko’s incredible story from start to finish with breathtaking footage of wild orcas in their natural habitat. Music that was at times both haunting and uplifting, written by the film’s creator Theresa Demarest and performed by a team of talented musicians, played throughout. A panel of world-renowned orca experts provided narration, give the film a sense of legitimacy of a true documentary in its subjective delivery of fact direct from the sources responsible for his care.
Notable experts included in the film were Dr. Paul Spong of Orcalab, Dr. Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D. of the Humane Society International, and Mark Berman of the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation. Each of these stars put a unique perspective on the same story, allowing the audience to see it from many different angles. Their shared love for Keiko was obvious as they eagerly spoke about his experiences.
An unexpected bonus as the credits rolled was footage of children, who had just seen the film, reacting to it. Their honest, basic appreciation of what they had just seen and their willingness to tell it like it is delighted the audience. Laughter and applause echoed throughout the room as one little boy pronounced firmly that taking orcas into captivity was “a very bad idea!”
By Libby Smith
Freelance Writer, KeikoDoc Representative for the Amelia Film Festival
"I'm a journalism student at the University of South Florida in Tampa. I have nurtured a lifelong love for Keiko and for all orca whales, and when I heard about the release of "Keiko, the Untold Story" I had to see it. It was coming to the Amelia Island Film Festival, about 4 hours away from me, so I contacted Theresa Demarest on Facebook to get details on how to get tickets, mentioning that I was a journalism student and I'd love to help out with anything I could for the film. She trusted me with the opportunity to represent her at the film festival, so I was able to see the film, review it, and interview the audience. It was an absolute thrill to get to work on a project so close to my heart, and I'm very grateful for the experience."
©2011 Joshua Records, LLC