Dolphin slaughter documentary prompts call for Stamford boycott
UPDATE 2 P.M.:
State Rep. David Michel, D-146, has called off his plans to protest and boycott and will instead join a discussion at the Avon Theatre about the film.
STAMFORD — Ritual dolphin killing is again riling an incoming state representative after he learned a documentary white-washing the slaughter is coming to a theater near you.
Shippan native David Michel, who will be sworn in to represent the 146th state House District early next month, is calling for a boycott of a film screening Wednesday evening at the Avon Theatre. The cinema will screen “A Whale of a Tale” and host director Megumi Sasaki. The film casts the annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan as a complicated matter pitting tradition against activism — local interests versus global citizens.
Michel, who volunteered for the activist group Sea Shepherd and spent time in Taiji in 2013 to combat the killings, said wholesale slaughter is a more accurate representation. He had to cancel another trip there this winter because of the upcoming legislative session, he said.
Dolphins are herded into a hidden cove where they are captured — sometimes sold for $200,000 a head to zoos and aquariums — or killed in large numbers, he said. He shared with the Stamford Advocate photos he took from his trip, which included blood-red water and penned-in dolphins.
“This is frustrating for me,” Michel said. “(The film) is really, really, really propaganda and it’s now in my backyard.”
Adam Birnbaum, the Avon’s director of business development and film programming, said he is saddened by Michel’s reaction. The Avon is a nonprofit, a “non-partisan venue and safe space,” he said. The Bedford Street theater is “a viable conduit to challenging subjects.”
“We are not and will never be censors,” Birnbaum said.
Michel said his trip to Japan and an earlier documentary on the killings called “The Cove,” which sought to “expose both a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health,” according to IMDB, prompted him to be more politically involved and even made him vegan.
“It changed me forever,” he said. “There is no two ways of seeing this — this is not tradition, this is money.”
“A Whale of a Tale” is in many ways a rebuttal and follow-up on “The Cove,” which won an Academy Award.
The Avon is playing the film Wednesday evening as part of a documentary-night series. On its website, the theater says the film “reveals the complex story behind the ongoing debate. Told through a wide range of characters, including local fishermen, international activists and an American journalist (and longtime Japanese resident), this powerful documentary unearths a deep divide in eastern and western thought about nature and wildlife and cultural sensitivity in the face of global activism.”
Birnbaum said he picked the film because the theater has kept in touch with Sasaki after screening her 2008 film “Herb & Dorothy.”
Not only is this a provocative subject, he said, “but it’s a film about a exploring another film. It could absolutely stimulate a very interesting discourse.”
Michel said he hopes to introduce a bill that bans Connecticut zoos and aquariums from purchasing cetaceans — dolphins, whales and porpoises — when he is in office.
Birnbaum said he questions Michel’s fitness for office after promoting a boycott of a nonprofit art-house cinema. Michel said he “loves the Avon” and doesn’t mean to promote a boycott of the theater itself, but wants to keep the movie out of Stamford.
“I’m really sorry and sad to see that somebody who is an elected official in the state of Connecticut could pick this path,” Birnbaum said.
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