About Me

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I am a consultant and general counsel to International Ride Training LLC as well as a practicing attorney in Avon, Connecticut. A particular focus of mine is the legal needs of the amusement and tourism industry. My focus on the amusement industry derives from my pre-law career as an operations manager with Cedar Fair Entertainment Company and Universal Orlando. Having started my career as a ride operator at Cedar Point in 1992, I progressed through the seasonal ranks and ultimately became the Manager of Ride Operations and Park Services at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City. I also worked in Universal's operations department during the construction and development of Islands of Adventure. Today, I am an active member of the New England Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions and the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions. I have been invited to speak at amusement industry meetings and seminars and have worked on a variety of matters relating to this industry.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Blackfish / White Lies? (Pt. 2): The Art Of Advocacy Film-Making

I had to decide that my structure was going to be to tell the truthful, fact-driven narrative from beginning to end, following Tilikum’s trajectory through the eyes of the former trainers, that I can just tell the truth and lay out the facts.  Someone said that if you try too hard to do “on the one hand, but then on the other hand,” you may become faithless to the truth.  And so, if I just promise myself that I would not sensationalize, not shoehorn information in there that will manipulate people into feeling things and stick to the fact-driven story, then that is a story that people need to hear.“
Gabriela Cowperthwaite, describing Blackfish (available at http://collider.com/gabriela-cowperthwaite-jeffrey-ventre-blackfish-interview/).  

Is this accurate?  Is Blackfish really just an un-sensationalized piece of documentary film-making that doesn’t try to “manipulate people into feeling things?”  Does Blackfish simply “stick to a fact-driven story?”  That’s the question and the point of this series.  Ms. Cowperthwaite has given interviews to at least two media outlets claiming that Blackfish is just a straightforward presentation of “fact driven narrative,” without advocacy.  I do not see how that can be a credible claim given the inherent bias of the people involved (the discussion of my last entry), the structure and film-making tricks used seemingly for the sole purpose of “manipulate[ing] people” into considering only one side (the subject of this piece), and the inconsistent and sometimes demonstrably incorrect statements presented in the film (the subject of the next, and last, piece).  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Blackfish / White Lies? (Pt. 1): Sorry, I Forgot To Mention, They're All Activists

“Proof of bias is almost always relevant because the jury, as finder of fact and weigher of credibility, has historically been entitled to assess all evidence which might bear on the accuracy and truth of a witness' testimony.”

United States v. Abel, 469 U.S. 45, 52 (1984). 

Former Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court William Rhenquist wrote these words nearly 30 years ago.  They are as true in the Court of Public Opinion as they are in a court of law.  Blackfish has a lot of “testimony” that is presented without any hint of potential bias – quite the opposite actually.  Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite strongly suggests the outright credibility of most of the people who appear in the film.  After all, who better to speak about what is going on with SeaWorld’s whales than a bunch of ex-trainers who spent years working with them?  Who better to explain the science behind orca behavior and biology than experts in the field and a neuroscientist who has studied the brain of a killer whale up close?  Since Blackfish provides no background on any of these individuals, other than what is necessary to establish their credibility, the “jury” in the Court of Public Opinion is left with nothing to assess the true credibility of their “testimony.”  In a court of law, questions of bias are raised through cross examination.  Similarly, in true journalistic pieces, the journalist “cross examines” his or her source by, for example, playing the “devil’s advocate” and challenging them to explain, debunk, or address potential sources of bias.  Cross examination and journalistic honesty are vital tools that allow the audience to decide for themselves whether what is being said is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  But in Blackfish, there is no “cross examination” of the "witnesses" the "jury" is expected to believe.  Consequently, it is easy to view Blackfish as telling its story though an objective lens.  But that’s just not the case.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Blackfish / White Lies? (A Prologue)

Click here to read Blackfish / White Lies (An Epilogue):  Responding To Your Comments

In Blackfish, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has given the world a very effective and compelling piece of film-making.  While I was not able to catch this documentary in the theaters during its limited release last summer, I was able to catch it on CNN earlier this week and, as a lawyer, I am compelled to admit to some appreciation for the work that was done.  Blackfish is disturbing and, at times, difficult to watch.   It makes a compelling visceral argument against killer whale captivity in general and against SeaWorld in particular.  It is a film that stays with you after you watch it.  It is one of the better pieces of advocacy that I’ve seen in recent years, and, particularly given my interest and involvement in this industry, it made me want to read a bit more.  And that’s when I came across this quote from a recent interview given by Ms.Cowperthwaite:

[T]he film is not at all advocating for anything. That’s what some people have a hard time with. [They ask], “Where’s the 1-800 number at the end of the film?” You know, where you need to prescribe something we can do. I deliberately chose not to do that. What I did choose to do was to tell the story, and that’s all I was really equipped to do. … So I really truly believe that I err on the side of the journalistic approach, not the advocacy approach. I think that for me, I had to come to my conclusions by really reviewing the facts.  I kept everybody at bay because [I] didn’t want to be influence[d] by any kind of agenda and I just kind of stuck with the story.

(More after the jump)