Q&A with Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens
(L to R: Thom Powers, Louie Psihoyas & Fisher Stevens. Photo by Brian Geldin)
Stranger Than Fiction continued its string of screenings this season of 2010 Academy-Award nominated documentaries Monday night with “The Cove.” (STF recently screened Oscar contender “Which Way Home” and is also scheduled to show “Food, Inc.” on Feb. 17). “The Cove” is a thriller about a small group of environmental activists including director Louie Psihoyas himself and the original “Flipper” dolphin trainer Rick O’Barry, who lead an expedition to expose the atrocious slaughter of dolphins in a Japanese village using hidden surveillance equipment. The film also points out the harmful levels of mercury in the ocean that not only affects sea life, but people who eat it, namely for sushi. Psihoyas successfully weaves a narrative in a highly entertaining and informative manner, while introducing us to unique characters, both heroes (O’Barry for instance) and villains (a man they call “Private Space.”) After the credits rolled, the audience gave Psihoyas a standing ovation and Thom Powers led a discussion with him and producer Fisher Stevens. They even had some exciting news to announce about the film’s distribution in Japan.
Given the fraught circumstances and conditions Psihoyos and his crew endured in Japan, Powers noted that “The Cove” screened at the Tokyo Film Festival this year, but it wasn’t an easy endeavor. Stevens said they submitted the film seven times to the festival. The theme of the festival was “green,” but they kept getting rejected. Rick O’Barry told them they had to get it into the festival. At a screening in Nantucket, they asked if anyone there knew how they could get their film played at Tokyo, and Ben Stiller raised his hand in the audience saying he could help. Through Stiller, they got it into Alejondro Inarritu's hands, since he was the president of the Tokyo jury. He saw the film and persuaded the festival to take it “with incredible caveats of changing and blurring certain scenes,” he said. “That’s what really helped our journey in Japan.” Psihoyos said when he went to Tokyo, there were three arrest warrants for him: trespassing, conspiracy to obstruct commerce, and photographing undercover cops without their permission. He brought his lawyer just in case he’d be arrested, but luckily he didn’t get arrested. “It was the most amazing screening I had ever been to,” Psihoyas said. “In the audience were all the bad guys” including the infamous “Private Space,” the mayor of Taiji, and the fisherman. They were there to watch to the film to see if they could find anything litigious to keep it from going further to the Japanese population.
Psihoyas paused to announce his news that “The Cove” now has a Japanese distributor, Medallion. The audience applaused. The film will open theatrically in Japan this April, then will go onto DVD about three months before the September dolphin slaughter season. He equated this journey and struggle finally coming to fruition in Japan as "gaiatsu" meaning outside pressure that creates inside pressure for change. He said the most social change since World War II has happened through gaiatsu.
Did they recruit locals from Japan in the making of the film, asked someone in the audience? Psihoyas said that they did, but they were way in the background. This film has given permission for other Japanese people to speak out. It’s helped them to break through the glass ceiling. Beforehand, the press was not covering it. They received more coverage during the Tokyo Film Festival than “Avatar.” He beckoned back to the earlier news of the Japanese distribution being extremely important.
As someone who’s produced other films, what was it that stood out for Stevens about “The Cove,” Powers asked. Stevens said he’d met Psihoyas while scuba diving. He loves the ocean and the environment, which he feels has been abused and he saw an opportunity after seeing the footage that this film would wake people up. Besides that, he saw an entertaining thriller. They both also had mercury poisoning from eating a lot of sushi. Stevens recommended that everyone get their levels checked. Powers joked that actors have used that excuse to get out of Broadway plays. Stevens added that when he got to meet and know O’Barry, he saw the passion he has for his work, besides the importance of saving the dolphins.
Powers asked what’s happening with O’Barry nowadays. “He’ll be my date for the Oscars,” Psihoyas said, adding that O’Barry has had a visceral response to everything and has been going back to the cove by himself. “We’re trying to give the ocean a voice with this film,” he said, which is the true value of getting these awards. The important reason to win the Oscar for him is because it’s one of the most watched shows in Japan.
Will sales of the film go toward any of their causes, asked another person in the audience? Psihoyas said they have about $2.4 million in loans, which they’ll put into making another ocean movie. He’s also been using some of his own money to pay Japanese organizations to do websites and financing other people’s operations for community outreach. Stevens added that the box office receipts here in the U.S. was “really bad” considering all the press the film got, because people were afraid to see “the dolphin slaughter movie” no matter how much they tried to sell it as a thriller. It became depressing to them. There was a stigma about it that they hope will be lifted by marketing and selling it differently. It’s not just about the slaughter of the dolphins, it’s about much more. There’s only about 90 seconds of it in the whole film. Psihoyas said they considered every frame. “They say most documentaries are abandoned, not finished,” he said. “We finished it.”
Labels: Fisher Stevens, Louis Psihoyas, Stranger Than Fiction, The Cover