Kim Kendersley’s Whaledreamers is a passionate but flawed effort to save the world, one whale at a time. Review by Fiona Williams.
22 Sep 2008 - 4:23 PM  UPDATED 7 Nov 2012 - 3:30 AM

Whaledreamers charts Kendersley’s personal odyssey to end the practice of whaling. To
make his point, he draws on the deep spiritual connections that exist between
ancient tribes and the endangered animals, focussing on the Mirning people of
the Nullarbor, whose efforts to reconnect with the spirit animals of their
dispossessed sacred land leads the film’s narrative.

Kendersley’s passion is infectious. He is clearly a committed, excitable, and
enthusiastic advocate for harmony and compassion, who struggles against
complacency in the face of world crises and looming environmental catastrophe.

The problem is, none of this translates into a
compelling film. The narrative struggles to maintain momentum and gets lost
amid repetitious stock footage and gimmicky post production.

It is a dilemma that all advocacy filmmakers face:
how to condense a complicated social/political/environmental message into a
concise and palatable essay that is capable of effecting change. When this is
done well, the results speak for themselves. With just Al Gore and a Powerpoint
presentation, director David Guggenheim made a film that put climate change at
the forefront of the political agenda. Similarly, Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock are
household names thanks to their effective methods of creating a lasting

For his part, Kendersley has made a 'message movie’ that stumbles under the
weight of its message. An anti-whaling film degenerates into an
all-encompassing rant about \'man\'s inhamanity to man\', complete with a clumsy
September 11 montage.

It seems as though Kendersley also struggled under the
weight of the footage collected during the film’s on/off decade of production"¦
A better director with a more economical approach to storytelling would have
cut through the repetition and hyperbole to create the film Whaledreamers fancies
itself to be.

It’s a terrible shame because the makings of a good
film are all there: There’s an historic meeting of international indigenous
elders; there’s the personal story of a song man from a dispossessed tribe
striving to find a renewed sense of purpose. Above all, there\'s the potential
for an incredible study on the hurdles that need to be overcome in order to
eradicate the horrendous practice of whaling. But limited screen time is
devoted to what is arguably the film’s most interesting source of tension: the
emerging dissent within indigenous tribes who slaughter whales as a rite of
passage. Winning the emotional argument between custom and conscience is surely just as
difficult as the diplomatic efforts to convince Japan
to drop the dubious 'we’re only collecting tissue samples’ defence. But you
won\'t find any serious debate in Whaledreamers and it\'s wholly
unsatisfying. It’s as if Kendersley felt that any screen time given over to
whaling advocates from tribal culture would weaken his central argument that
the practice is wrong. In fact, the opposite would likely be the case, and it would
have illustrated the extent of the struggle far better than the one-sided
narrative does.

Whaledreamers misses its mark entirely and its message of hope is unlikely to travel
far outside the circle of those already committed to the cause. Worse, it risks
backfiring entirely by alienating those willing to listen to its message but
put off by its heavy-handed methods.

Rating: 1.5/5