Saturday, February 28, 2009


Whaledreamers is a documentary by musician Julian Lennon and director Kim Kindersley that is hugely earnest and well meaning but layers on so many ideas and causes at once that it’s difficult to fully embrace. I’m sort of a sucker (when I’m in the right mood) for “let’s become one and save the world” theology, and so I stayed to the end and was, in fact, doing a little weepy, “why-oh-why-
does-the-world-work-this-way?” soul searching when K walked in and said, “Oh. It’s sad,” and walked out. He was not interested.

Which is good, because this is not for kids!

Ok, before you scurry away, let me clarify: it’s not for young kids.

I thought it was, which is why I watched it, and even after realizing it was not really appropriate kiddie-viewing, I stayed with it so I could give you an accurate report. (Okay, that, and I kind of liked it.)

Though the film at first focuses on Australia’s displaced indigenous Mirning people and their deep cultural bond with whales, it deals with so much more: global warming, industrialization, corporate greed, the Iraq war, among other things. In addition to being rife with these complex issues, there are also difficult images (starving children, war casualties, whale slaughtering, recollections of “disappeared” loved ones, etc.). It’s a rather slow moving piece of work and, frankly, it’s a bit of a muddle. Narrating voices don’t always make their point clear and it’s hard to know who’s speaking at times; certain cultural terminology could stand some clarification; the pacing and editing could have used a surer hand.

However, it’s also a passionate call to arms, with some very moving and beautiful images and ideas. This could work for older kids -- mature tweeners and teens -- who need something to chew on, or who are feeling budding pangs of empathy or curiosity for the natural world. The tough stuff in the film is offset by some really astounding cinematography, and by immensely touching scenes such as the director’s tale of an encounter with dolphins that changed his life. The summoning of various indigenous people to the Mirning land in Australia was quite a feat, and scenes of people as disparate as Northwest Native Americans, Maori of New Zealand, indigenous Hawaiians, Congolese and South Americans, sharing in rituals and storytelling, is educational, interesting and inspiring.

The sniffling comes late in the film, when we learn that one of the young men involved in this “summit,” an American translator and environmental activist, was later kidnapped and killed in South America where he was involved in protests against petroleum developers in the forest. Two other indigenous activists were also murdered. It’s a tough moment to get through. In fact, this event stopped the director and Lennon in their tracks; grief stricken and questioning, the Whaledreamers project came to a halt for several long years.

I think for the right young people, this can be a (painfully) eye opening and perhaps motivational experience. The world ain’t a perfect place, and those in charge are not always right and don’t always know what they’re doing. The concept of ecological “oneness,” that we are all in this together and that everything is connected, is certainly something our children should know about as they prepare to go out into the world and, hopefully, make it a better place.

Whaledreamers can help them on their journey.

(This film is not rated; I consider it to be somewhat equivalent of a PG-13 rating.)

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