Interview with The Walrus and the Whistleblower director Nathalie Bibeau – Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

The short is that The Walrus and the Whistleblower is interesting.

The 2020 documentary which is directed by Nathalie Bibeau follows former ‘Marineland’ trainer Phil Demers as he tries to rescue a Walrus from his former employer.

After being in the right place at the right time, Phil imprinted onto a Walrus named Smooshi, and they ultimately formed a bond together, and that bond, that love, opened Phil’s eyes to the goings on of Marineland.

I have to say, I didn’t mind Phil, he was a great subject.

What I like about Phil is his honesty. He’s not there to shut Marineland down, even if he did go and get himself into a lengthy legal battle with them. He’s isn’t a vegan and isn’t trying to save all animals in the world, he isn’t even there to save all of the animals in Marineland. Phil is all about Smooshi. Anything else would be a bonus.

And Phil admits that there is hypocrisy about it. Over a fat steak and a laugh even. It’s that honesty that makes Phil a great subject. He’s real. He knows what he wants. He wants the Walrus.

“I would like to think it’s good vs. evil, but I know it’s asshole vs. asshole” – Phil Demers

The Walrus and the Whistle-blower is well filmed too. Supported by old footage, presumably of Phil’s as ‘Marineland’ wanted nothing to do with the documentary. However, with Bibeau at the helm, the film flows very well, tracking Phil from his early days at Marineland, his bond with Smooshi and his subsequent exit and activism.

The Walrus and the Whistleblower sadly suffered because of the pandemic, missing out on a theatrical release, so give it a break and give it a watch. It’s engaging, honest, and is one really bloody interesting.  

Hear from Nathalie below:

Has Phil gotten any closer to freeing Smooshi since the film has been released, and what more can be done?
Not yet. In fact, four days after the film launched in Canada, we learned Smooshi gave birth to a calf. This shocked everyone who had been following the story, including Phil. We don’t know too much about how mom and baby are doing yet, but Phil is now saying he wants both walruses transferred to a facility where he can have access to them. The lawsuit is still active and Phil is hoping for a resolution soon. I invite people to watch the film, make up their own minds on what they think of all this and voice their opinion. 
What legal issues did the film face from Marineland, if any? (were there any threats or the like?)
By the time I started making the film, Marineland had filed over ten lawsuits against former employees who had made allegations, activists, and the media, and one against the agency responsible for enforcing animal welfare laws. All were related in some way to the events I was covering in the film. Although I sought Marineland’s participation several times, it became clear early on that they were not inclined to take part. They did assert their legal rights in correspondence, but the company has also publicly said they are evolving and believe in freedom of expression. And I have to take them at their word. Currently, all lawsuits against the media and the whistleblowers have been dismissed or settled, except Phil’s. 

How are the whales that remain at the park ‘Grandfathered’?
The decision was made to allow the facilities with whales in captivity to be able to keep them, in part because the options are limited as to where they could go. Marineland has over 50 belugas, one orca and a handful of dolphins. There is a sanctuary being planned in Canada, but they will only be able to take 6 – 8 belugas. Should Marineland agree, some of their belugas could end up there. While the rest are likely to remain at Marineland, the law makes it illegal to have them perform for entertainment, breed them or import more. They also can’t export them to another facility outside Canada without a special permit from the federal government. This effectively makes the whales and dolphins at Marineland the last generation of their kind in Canada. 
Are there any other bills/laws that Phil is trying to get through parliament?
Not at the moment. There is talk in government about new legislation for other species, but nothing has yet been decided or announced. 

Directed by Nathalie Bibeau

Travis Akbar

Travis grew up on the west coast of South Australia and has been interested in film since seeing Jurassic Park and Predator for the first time in the mid-nineties. Particularly fond of the action and thriller genres, he met his long-time idol, Jean Claude Van Damme, in 2016, talking with 'the muscles from Brussels' about his upcoming films and the hurdles he has faced in the entertainment industry. Some of his favourite films include Jurassic Park, The Salton Sea, Apt Pupil and Any Given Sunday. Travis loves the way a film can make people feel such a diverse range of emotions, from excitement and happiness to fear and sadness. He believes that creativity is what helps the world evolve and that the arts, is the centre of creativity.

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