When British Columbia-based producer and director Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit first encountered Luna for a Smithsonian article published in November 2004, it's almost certain they never expected to have their hearts stolen by an orca.
But Luna had a way of doing that, as seen in 'The Whale' movie which comes to the US DVD market on Tuesday.
Expanding on their 2008 documentary 'Saving Luna', Chisholm and Parfit's film grabbed the attention of Ryan Reynolds, who narrated the film and executively produced it alongside his then-wife, actress Scarlett Johansson.
Luna, L-98 or Tsuux'iit, began life as a member of the Southern Resident orca population in the San Juan Islands of Washington. First spotted in September 1999, just two years later he appeared alone in Nootka Sound and spent five years breaching the human-orca divide, forcing bonds and creating mayhem.
Chisholm and Parfit who described the orca as "an open-hearted child
", were just two of many people unwittingly seduced by the intensely social whale. And their timely placement provided the perfect opportunity to document Luna's story.
And what a story he would become.
Desperate for attention, Luna mischievously and deftly sought human interaction whenever he could. His antics garnered the focus of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), several orca conservation groups, and the First Nations Mowachaht-Muchalaht government on the west coast of Vancouver Island who called Luna -- 'Tsuux'iit'.
"Everyone learned a lot about killer whales and their habitat and also learned who we are as Mowachaht-Muchalaht people," said Chief Maquinna in a 2006 interview
with David Wiwchar. "He was a part of our community, and we hold him in very high regard," added the Chief.
But as the DFO attempted to limit human interaction with Luna, leveling a $100,000 fine on anyone even touching or looking at the orca, the whale cared nothing for rules and regulations. Luna cleverly devised alternate methods to get his interaction fix by crashing through every boundary man set before him.
For this orca the rules were simple, forbidden friendship did not exist. He commandeered the hearts of many including those of Chisholm and Parfit. Their initial visit with the whale sparked a three-year crusade and spawned the original documentary 'Saving Luna.'
The film received numerous awards and played in theaters across Canada in 2009, appearing on CBC in 2009 and then the BBC in 2010 under the title, 'A Killer Whale Called Luna'. In 2011, the 400 hours of footage captured, evolved into the theatrical film 'The Whale', which first screened in the US at the SIFF Cinema in Seattle on September 9, 2011.
Set in Nootka Sound, the film is naturally visually stunning, but Luna leaves little doubt as to who the true star of this movie is. Reviews of the film across a wide variety of media platforms have been positive but have tended to focus on the ethical debate of human and wild orca interaction. While this is understandable, it does a grave injustice to the spirit of this film.
Although the core issues in the movie focus on documenting the battle between groups and their interpretations of what is best for the young orca, Chisholm and Parfit manage to ensure that the heart at the center of this movie, is definitively Luna's.
Like a fine wine, the duo provide the optimal ingredients for a recipe that takes thought and time to mature. Weeks after watching the movie, the realization hit that this young orca effectively corralled almost every person he came into contact with.
Enthralling, comical and at times emotionally draining, 'The Whale' showcases the highly intelligent and complex social structure of the species Orcinus orca
. But the film's true substance was provided by Luna himself.
The young whale quite simply refused to be ignored. And through Chisholm and Parfit's sweeping and astute documentary, the orca finally finds his voice.
On DVD in the US: December 4
Production: Mountainside Films
Narrator: Ryan Reynolds
Director: Michael Parfit
Producer: Suzanne Chisholm
Executive producers: Ryan Reynolds, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Desatnik
Editor: Michael Parfit
Music: David Parfit, Tobin Stoke
G rating, 85 minutes
For more details on the movie visit The Whale Movie.com
. For every US copy of the DVD sold through The Whale.com website through Dec. 31, Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit will donate 20% of the price for the benefit of Luna's family, the Southern Resident orca community. Proceeds will go to three reputable non-profit organizations: Center for Whale Research, Orca Network, and Soundwatch Boater Education Program.