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The Whale

The story of Luna, a young wild killer whale, who challenged the established order of things when he tried to make friends with people.

A printer-friendly version of this page 85 minutes
Directed by Suzanne Chisholm, Michael Parfit
Produced by Suzanne Chisholm
Writer and Editor: Michael Parfit
Executive Producers: Ryan Reynolds, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Desatnik, Suzanne Chisholm
Music: David Parfit, Tobin Stokes
Narrated by Ryan Reynolds
A Mountainside Films Production

"Haunting, thought-provoking. There is much rich conceptual terrain here for discussion." Carl Safina, President, Blue Ocean Institute
Note: THE WHALE is a revision of the multi-award-winning SAVING LUNA, which has never been in distribution in the United States.

One summer in a fjord called Nootka Sound on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, a young killer whale whom people call Luna gets separated from his pod. Like us humans, orcas are highly social and depend on their families, but Luna finds himself desperately alone. So he tries to make contact with people. He begs for attention at boats and docks. He looks soulfully into your eyes. He wants to have his tongue rubbed. When you whistle at him, he squeaks and whistles back. He follows you around like a puppy.

People fall in love with him -- a cook on an old freighter, a gruff fisheries officer, an elder and a young man from a First Nations band. But the government decides that being friendly with Luna is bad for him, and tries to keep him and people apart.

This effort becomes hilarious and baffling, because Luna refuses to give up his search for a social life. Policemen arrest people for rubbing Luna's nose. Fines are levied. But humans are social, too. When the government tells people they can't even look at Luna, people still go out to meet him, like smugglers carrying friendship through the dark.

But friendship is complicated, even among humans themselves, and does it work between species? People who love Luna don't agree on how to help him. The fisheries officer wants Luna captured and trucked away to try to force him to connect with his family. The young First Nations man thinks that's disrespectful because his band says Luna is the spirit of a chief. The elder believes Luna is supernatural, the sea's source of wisdom and justice. The ship's cook doesn't know what to do except marvel when she looks in his eyes.

Then conflict comes to Nootka Sound. The government builds a huge net. The First Nations' members bring out their canoes. Then, suddenly, as the two sides start to fight over Luna on the wind-swept water, the young whale has all the friends he wants. As the officer tries to lead Luna into the net, the First Nations elder sings and paddles and tries to lead him away, and Luna plays among the boats like a kid out of school. To Luna this must be great, but in this human conflict above him, someone has to win and someone has to lose, and where will his friends be then?

Nothing goes as planned on Nootka Sound. Finally even the filmmakers get swept up in events that catch everyone by surprise and challenge the very nature of that special and mysterious bond we humans call friendship.

In the end, THE WHALE explores one of the greatest of mysteries: Who are these lives who share the planet with us humans, and what are the connections between us that we do not yet know?

Grade Level: 3 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2013     Copyright Date: 2010
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-266-7

"A complex and beautiful tale of Luna, a lost killer whale, and the people he touches. In several extraordinary scenes, we see people mirrored in Luna's glossy skin--and are lead to reflect on the life-and-death decisions made in Nootka Bay. The Whale is a moving testament to the changing relationship between whales and humans."
Dr. Joe Roman, Assistant Professor, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, University of Vermont, Author, Listed: Dispatches form America's Endangered Species Act and Whale

"A moving story about the capacity of a lost killer whale to seek human friendship, and the incapacity of humans to provide it. The film profiles human heroes, certainly, but also shows how difficult it can be for humans to simply accept a peaceful coexistence that is unexpectedly offered. Haunting, thought-provoking. There is much rich conceptual terrain here for discussion."
Carl Safina, President, Blue Ocean Institute, Author, The View From Lazy Point and Song for the Blue Ocean

"Very well done with stunning images...A compelling detailing of the interactions of humans with Luna and Luna's own seeking of contact. The movie brings the species closer to us through the lens of rather unnatural behavior, but does so while explaining the controversies surrounding human-animal interactions."
Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal, Professor of Primate Behavior, Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes Primate Center, Emory University, Author, The Bonobo and the Atheist

"Luna moved me in ways so far beyond mere words. I think you portray as well as I've ever seen the possibility and value of the true relationship/ friendship across species lines...The power of the image of Luna the individual which you have crafted is stunning and, to my mind, precisely what is needed to get people to recognize that fundamental changes need to be made."
Dr. Paul Waldau, Director, Center for Animals and Public Policy, Tufts University

"The documentary footage over the years was edited magnificently to portray the struggle when difficult decisions must be made because humans become attached to wild animals and vice versa. 'What is best for the species?' is the central question...The story of L98 is worth repeating in the hope that we learn from history."
Judy Kraus, Hyde Park Middle School, NSTA Recommends

"Heart-touching...Part extraordinary adventure, part revelation that humans and animals share a profound bond, The Whale is an eye-opening true story that speaks to viewers of all ages and backgrounds. Highly recommended, especially for public and community library collections."
The Midwest Book Review

"There is a gossamer lyricism to The Whale...this is a documentary ideal for schoolrooms, family viewing and discussion. The issues surrounding the emotional lives of animals - and the often presumptuous assumption of humans that they comprehend them - are explored in The Whale with a quiet dignity and gorgeous images."
Andy Webster, New York Times

"A thoughtful, philosophical, political and ultimately sad documentary that ponders the impulses behind, and advisability of, intense interaction between human beings and another smart species...The stunning scenery, well-composed and...exceptionally steady photography and Luna's sheer charisma make The Whale very watchable."
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

"An outstanding story of a once-in-a-lifetime encounter...Science meets heart and cultures clash, but in the end, compassion and concern win...I learned a lot from watching this life-changing film - crying and laughing and enjoying it even the third time - and will surely watch it again. It is that good."
Dr. Marc Bekoff, author, The Emotional Lives of Animals and Animals that Matter and editor, The Encyclopedia

"Visually stunning and emotionally wrought. The Whale begs for post-movie discussion about what should have been done with the graceful and lovable bicolor dilemma at the center of the film; the answer is hardly black and white."
Stephanie Merry, Washington Post

"Emphasizing the rough, chilly beauty of the west coast of Vancouver Island, [Chisholm and Parfit] created a gorgeous and provocative film that consistently rises above its Flipper-ish genre."
John Hartl, Seattle Times

"Thoughtful and moving...An engaging contribution to our evolving understanding of other species' emotional lives."
Sheri Linden, Los Angeles Times

"I was profoundly moved by your film, as were many of our students. They were given a critical thinking writing assignment to complete afterwards. Very interesting and inspiring. This was a remarkably rich learning experience for ALL of us."
Martha Coates-Eveleigh, grade 7 and 8 teacher, Hopewell Avenue Public School, Ottawa, Ontario

"From the moment we began watching the film, my students couldn't take their eyes off Luna. They couldn't stop talking about him either. Their hearts were opened to an animal that seemed so much like them. Luna was part of the class. He was the new kid, just trying to have fun."
Mary Ellen Brown, third grade teacher, Vienna Elementary, NC

"Your documentary has had one of the most positive impacts on my students in my forty-one years of teaching. Luna and your film about Luna have had us all rethinking the relationships of animals and humans."
Jack Smith, fifth grade teacher, Sherwood Forest Elementary School, NC

Select your institution type

DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
English, Spanish, French subtitles; scene selection; plus 6 extras totalling 26 minutes: Discovering Luna's Family with orca biologist Ken Balcomb [11:27], Luna's Birth Drama [2:02], Deleted Scenes [5:04], Respecting Whales [3:08], + THE WHALE and SAVING LUNA trailers. Also Songs for Luna by Catherine Kinsman, Islands, Miracle Beach Elementary School and Quoia.

The film's website
20-page press kit with good background information and excellent Q & A and Orca natural history sections plus link to Orca culture article

Awards and Festivals
New York Times Critics' Pick
Washington Post Critics' Pick
Science Books & Films Best of 2013

Awards for SAVING LUNA
Indie Award, Best Documentary, Canadian Film and Television Association
Audience Choice, Best Feature, Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Panda Award, Best Script, Wildscreen Festival
Special Jury Award, Banff Mountain Film Festival
Audience Award, Environmental Film Festival at Yale
Special Jury Award, Wild and Scenic Film Festival
Platinum Remi, Best Nature and Wildlife, Worldfest Houston Int'l Film Festival
Black Pearl Audience Choice, Middle East International Film Festival
Best Documentary, Bermuda International Film Festival
Best Documentary, Victoria International Film Festival
Audience Award, San Francisco Ocean Film Festival
Best Documentary, Nature/Environment, Leo Awards
Special Jury Prize, Palm Beach International Film Festival
Audience Award, Festival International de Cine Ecologico y de la Naturaleza de Canarias
Audience Choice, Best Film Award, Durham International Film Festival
Best Environmental Film, Byron Bay Film Festival
Best Storyline, International Wildlife Film Festival
Merit Award for Educational Value, International Wildlife Film Festival
Best People and Animals, Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival
Best Canadian Film, Projecting Change Film Festival
Chris Awards, Honorable Mention, Columbus International Film Festival
Best Entertainment Award, Japan Wildlife Film Festival
Giant Panda, Golden Cup Award, China Animal and Nature Film Festival
Runner-Up, Audience Choice, Bermuda International Film Festival
Runner-Up, Audience Award, Our Island, Our World Film Festival
Runner-Up, Best ShAFF On The Edge Film, Sheffield Adventure Film Festival
Nominated, Best Feature Film, 23rd Annual Genesis Awards , Humane Society of the U.S.
Nominated, Pare Lorentz Award, International Documentary Association
Nominated, Tokyo Earth Grand Prix, Tokyo International Film Festival
Nominated, Best Canadian Documentary, Vancouver International Film Festival
Nominated, Best Maritime Film, GreenScreen International Wildlife Film Festival
Nominated, Best Wildlife & Natural History Program, Banff World Television Festival
Nominated, Best of Festival & Best Theatrical Film, BLUE Ocean Film Festival
Nominated, Best Wildlife Conservation Film, Environment and Wildlife Film Festival, New Delhi, India
Nominated, JAPAN PRIZE
New Zealand Mountain Film Festival
Green Competition, Green Film Festival in Seoul, Korea
Festival Int'l du Film d'Environment, Paris

Animal Behavior/Communication
Animal Rights
Canadian Studies
Environmental Ethics
Humans and Nature
Marine Biology
Oceans and Coasts

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For the Whales
Writers, artists, and musicians celebrate the whale.

Musical experiment with a choir, symphony orchestra, and three killer whales.

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... more Reviews

"The educational value in watching a very young social creature try to interact with humans and our inconsistencies and confusion was an invaluable tool in teaching empathy and respect."
Jill Whitehouse, Early Minds Education Inc.

"Compelling, inspiring and unforgettable."
James Dawson, Film Review Online

"Don't miss this rare, intimate and moving glimpse into one whale's emotional life."
Samantha Ellis, Global Animal

"I love The Whale. It's an important film, but also funny and moving and unforgettable. Everyone should see this movie."
Ric O'Barry, star of the Academy Award winning film, The Cove; founder of

"A wonderful, thought-provoking documentary. It delivers an important message about man's relationship to animals in the natural world, and is not only deserving of our recognition, but also a wide audience that is bound to be moved by its story."
Beverly Kaskey, Senior Director, Hollywood Office, Humane Society of the United States

"To Native Americans [Luna] is the spirit of a chief; to boaters he is a goofy friend; to conservationists he is a cause; to scientists he is trouble; to officials he is a danger. As conflict and tragedy stain the waters, Luna becomes a symbol of the world's wildest beauty: wonderful to know, but so hard to save."
Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival Program

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