'Blackfish' to Be Celebrated at Live Concert Event in Hollywood

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
A still from 'Blackfish.'

Three-and-a-half years after the release of the game-changing documentary, the film's Emmy-winning composer will conduct his score live-to-film at the Montalban Theater.

Three-and-a-half years after the release of Blackfish, its effects will be celebrated with a special Los Angeles screening of the game-changing documentary accompanied by a live orchestra playing the music from the film.

Blackfish: Live will be held July 1 at the Montalban Theater in Hollywood and will be conducted by Blackfish composer Jeff Beal, nominated for 15 Emmys for his work on series such as Netflix's House of Cards and HBO's Rome. The Hollywood Chamber Orchestra, a new 47-piece orchestra made up of veteran film and TV musicians, will perform the score.

A short film directed by Beal, The Blackfish Effect, will have its world premiere following the screening. A panel featuring several former SeaWorld trainers will discuss the disturbing content of the film and answer audience questions.

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Blackfish centers around the story of Tilikum, a captive orca whale responsible for the deaths of three people, including that of SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it was acquired by Magnolia Pictures and CNN. It had its first airing on CNN on Oct. 24, 2013, accompanied by a special hosted by Anderson Cooper and featuring Cowperthwaite.

Repeat airings drew a large and enthusiastic audience to the feature, widely credited with having jump-started a movement against whales in captivity and having a devastating effect on SeaWorld's public image and profitability. The theme park company's net income plummeted 84 percent following the film's release — from $37.4 million 2014 to $5.8 million in 2015.

In March 2016, SeaWorld announced the end of their orca breeding program, as well as the end of any live shows featuring the whales. Two years earlier, legislator Richard Bloom authored the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, a California bill that would call for the banning of whale captivity for entertainment purposes.

Blackfish has even made its mark on the film industry. Both Finding Dory and Paper Towns were amended to feature more politically correct depictions of marine parks.

Such post-Blackfish developments have greatly shored up the animal rights movement. That's in keeping with a general Hollywood trend toward animal activism and veganism, as promoted by major stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Ariana Grande and Woody Harrelson. As a result, PETA currently boasts over 5 million members, and 16 million Americans now consider themselves to be vegan. 

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Friday's event, Cowperwaithe says she hired Beal after finding herself repeatedly drawn to his moving compositions.

"I found myself picking temp tracks from his previous films," she says. "When you're doing that more than once, it's a sign that maybe you've found the right person."  

The final film, Cowperthwaite says, would never have had the same impact without his music. "There's no way to engage with a film and its cause without feeling emotionally attached in some way," she explains. "So many of the highs and lows, the pacing, the emotional drive in Blackfish have to do with the score.”

Beal, meanwhile, is both amazed and deeply moved by the impact Blackfish has had on changing centuries-old attitudes toward animals as entertainment.

"You could never have predicted what was going to happen with this film," he says. "I think it's awakened a generation of people to this idea — a generational shift that is happening.”