The Walrus and the Whistleblower, which won the Audience Award at the Hot Docs Film Festival, was written and directed by Nathalie Bibeau, and it's her debut feature documentary. It looks at the story of Phil Demers, a former Marineland marine mammal trainer who launched into a personal quest to end marine mammal captivity. When Smooshie the walrus imprinted on Demers, the two became strongly attached and as time went on, Demers reached breaking point and could no longer stand by and watch the culture in the workplace that included bad conditions and the abuse of animals.
Marineland's response was heavily invested in suing everyone in the hope that the intimidation would silence those who dared to speak against them. Demers himself was sued over a million dollars. A bit of a David and Goliath story, it doesn't singularly rest on an individual story but expands to a wider picture of animal rights and a society that forces animals to entertain us. A particular woman stands out in the crowd of protesters at one point when she singles out four decades of relatives who have been fighting the fight for animals at Marineland's doorstep and begs the question, who are we as a society.
This documentary allows space for Demers and other workers to tell their stories and works at balancing relevant factual information to put the story together. Supporting it are archival footage, contemporary news footage, and private moments that sometimes gets a little lost in Demers' headspace as he goes from showman to crusader to feeling a little lost when his nemesis no longer exists to define him. This is a battle that stretches on between those who have and have not (money & power), with an end result unreached.
However, it was a huge win for animal rights advocates as the House of Commons voted to ban keeping whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity, which had a long-term consequence for Canadian marine parks. Marineland is still operating and this doco presents a picture of what lengths some people will go to, to save their nefarious business, and some to save and protect animals. There are loose ends in the documentary, as situations and relationships that could have, don't have conclusions, which unfortunately leave it a touch incomplete.