The Hot Docs winner is both devastating and more than a little surreal.
The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” was a gamechanger for animal rights activists that turned SeaWorld’s abusive treatment of Orca whales into a national issue. “The Walrus and the Whistleblower” may not contain quite such breadth, but it’s a natural extension of this urgent subgenre, with the intimate dynamic between one man and his beloved furry marine animal coming across as both devastating and more than a little surreal.
The saga of Phil Demers, the former trainer at Niagara Falls theme park Marineland, has many strange chapters, but director Nathalie Bibeau’s first feature assembles them into a fascinating overview. When Demers defected from Marineland in 2012, he embarked on a winding path to rescue his beloved walrus from captivity, and that saga is at once alarming and strange. Saddled with a $1.5 million lawsuit from Marineland, Demers takes his crusade to the streets, but the battle stretches on. While the movie gets a little too lost in Demers’ headspace, his story brings to light the limitations of the “Blackfish” effect, and shows why the war against marine park cruelty has a long way to go.
Demers spent the first decade of his