Vegan Life spoke to Jonny Meah, the director of Inside the Tanks, about why he made the documentary, what he thinks about Marineland and what shocked him most about making Inside the Tanks.
What drove you to make the documentary?
I’ve always been fascinated with whales and dolphins from a young child and I think that humans in generally have been interested. They have always been portrayed as the good guys in popular culture and they are so intelligent. They have similar family bonds and cultures to us and we can see similarities.
I also thought that there was a real gap in the market in terms of a documentary because, obviously you have black fish and the Cove which are all brilliant documentaries in their own right but I felt that there was something missing — something that actually discusses the topic as a whole and gets both sides of the debate over. That’s one of the most important things that I had in mind from the beginning. This needed to be engaging but it also had to have someone from both sides of the argument having their say. Otherwise, I’m just coming out with a propaganda piece. No matter what side you’re on, it’s important to make sure that dialogue is opened and that’s what the documentary has done.
Do you think you managed to stay neutral?
It’s very difficult because it is an emotive subject, whatever stance you take and I think prime examples of that is John Kershaw and Ingrid Visser, the main representatives for each side. For me, as the presenter, it was important to stay neutral but sometimes you’ve got to be human too. You’re going to have opinions. The thing that I’ve said throughout is to give both sides of the discussion the chance to have their say. It was hard to get the marine park to speak. For months before the documentary I was trying to get them to talk and there was no response. I get that. I understand completely why they would be wary to give me an interview because if you look at past pieces they are out to expose the parks. I made it very clear from the beginning that that was not my aim. It was not my aim to expose them in any way.
Is this your first documentary?
I’m early on in my career and most of the stuff I have done since leaving university has been entertainment based. I’ve always wanted to do a documentary and think it’s where my strengths lie. The only way I could think to do it was to go out and do it myself. Certainly, it was my first time producing and editing — that was something completely new to me.
Was there anything that shocked you?
The thing that shocked me the most was the fact that John Kershaw, the zoological director, agreed with so much of what Ingrid was saying. He was very much in agreement with her on many things and that did surprise me. I thought he would be defending vigorously but it did surprise me that these two people on opposite sides are not worlds apart and I hoped that it was shown that although there are strong differences in opinion, there are things which can be built upon. Equally, the trainers definitely love the animals. All too easily everyone gets tarred with the same brush. The reason that they work in those parks (they clearly don’t want a job that’s 9-5) is because they love those animals and care for them. You can see that in everything that they do. The issue is that the people who run the park, who are based in Paris and rarely visit the park, are there to fill their pockets. They are more looking at the financial side. I was shocked by his honesty.
Why has Marineland had less pressure than SeaWorld?
That’s a really good point. Considering they have really strong links with Seaworld, as you found out in the documentary. I personally think its because not many people know they are there. Before doing the documentary and the research, I didn’t know that Orcas were even based in France in Captivity. There are pressures on them. Back in 2015, when there was flooding and one of their Orcas died and several other animals, there was definitely pressure then. I just think that its more of a domestic pressure — from France itself. Since filming, France has put a ban on breeding of dolphins and whales. There is pressure on them but with Seaworld being a massive, global organisation, there is more pressure on them. Blackfish catapulted Seaworld into public view. There hasn’t really been anything on Marineland.
How has making the documentary changed you?
My opinion has overall remained the same. My impression and understanding has stayed the same. What has changed is my hope for the future. I feel that the future isn’t as bleak as it may have seemed before and I think all sides could work together. That’s the key thing for me. I can see that it’s not something that’s black and white. There are interweaving opinions and it’s about bringing those together to give a better environment for these animals.
What’s in the pipeline?
I hope there are more things coming. It depends on how many different eyes see it. I had a really small team helping me who were great. I’d love to do another one. The reaction so far has been really positive from both sides of the argument and it’s obviously made an impression. We’re on over 26 thousand views now. We just need to keep it going.
The main thing is that this is not an attack. Marineland and John Kershaw should be respected for taking part in the documentary. They are helping to bring about the solution. They feel that they are doing the best for the animals and they love the animals. Other marine parks should take note and follow suit.