Bunbury Films Presents

in association with
documentary Channel & CBC Docs

The
Walrus
and the
Whistle
Blower

A Film By Nathalie Bibeau

Theatrical and drive-in screening schedule:

Sept 11 - 15 Ottawa, Bytowne Cinema
Sept 12 - 15 Waterloo, Princess Cinema
Sept 11 - 16 Hamilton, Playhouse Cinema
Sept 11 + 14 Vancouver, Rio Theatre
Sept 15 Barrie, Sunset Drive-In
Sept 22 London, Mustang Drive-In

A documentary project comprised of a feature film and an episode of
CBC's The Nature of Things, each exploring the public discussion on marine mammal captivity from a different lens.

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Press inquiries:
Clutch, Daniela Kelloway
daniela@clutchpr.com, 416 319-3511

General contact: Email
Press kit: Download

Phil Demers is a part-time mailman who lives in a bungalow across the creek from MarineLand, the iconic amusement park in Niagara Falls, where he had his dream job as an animal trainer for over a decade. He swam with killer whales and ran the show, until he quit and blew the whistle, making claims of animal abuse and calling for an end to the near 60-year-old practice of keeping marine mammals in pools.

It's an old idea in crisis.

Known in the media as the @walruswhisperer, Phil has amassed 27,000 followers on Twitter, has appeared four times on the Joe Rogan show, has testified before the Canadian Senate, and is being sued for $1.5 million for plotting to steal Smooshi, the walrus.

Phil and Smooshi had become an inseparable pair when she first arrived at MarineLand as a baby, and together they became a viral sensation in the early days of social media. He gave her a sense of security, she gave him a sense of purpose. Now, he's embroiled in a stranger-than-fiction custody battle to #savesmooshi.

This character-driven film pierces the veneer of a media story that has been bubbling away in the filmmaker's hometown for decades, with access to her childhood acquaintance at the centre of it. We follow Phil as he champions a law to ban the captivity of whales and dolphins, faces a lawsuit entering its 8th year, and spirals around an aching loss of identity.

I would like to think it's good vs. evil
but I know it's asshole vs. asshole.

The Walrus and the Whistleblower is a personal tale that plays out against the swell of a paradigm shift in our relationship with animals. At its heart are questions of compassion for others, humans and animals alike, the nuances of all our stories, and the hills we are willing to die on.

Director's Statement

Phil is a childhood acquaintance. When we were growing up, he and my brother smoked pot in my parents’ backyard and squeaked through high school. He was always a smart ass with a quick tongue, but there was no indication he would later hone a voice on Twitter so visceral it would attract celebrities and affect the course of legislation.

As a journalist and storyteller, I have been watching his story roll out online for over a decade. I was working as a producer at the CBC when I first saw him make headlines as a mother figure to a walrus named Smooshi. He was working as an animal trainer at MarineLand, a giant amusement park in our hometown’s backyard, a place my parents loved to take me as a kid.

Everyone I knew, it seemed, loved MarineLand.

At the time, there were a handful of protesters outside the gates, but they were perceived by locals to be marginal characters in a sidelined conversation that didn’t relate to the rest of us.

The summer Phil broke news as a whistleblower, and the protests exploded, I had just left my job to make independent films. It was a huge story, and I was shocked. Suddenly, the kid who didn’t seem to care about much at all when we were growing up was taking on one of the brightest legacies in the region that had put us on the tourist map.

It took me a long time to decide to make this film. Years, in fact. I kept an eye on the story, but it felt too close to home and the risk was great. I had heard about the lawsuits launched against whistleblowers and the media, I still thought of Phil as an adolescent shit disturber, and I had happy memories of MarineLand.

But as time passed, I felt the paradigm shift around the issue. My questions grew louder, and I realized that what was keeping me from telling the story were the very reasons I needed to do it.

Writer / Director / Producer

Nathalie Bibeau

A franco-ontarian raised in the rust belt, now based in Montréal, Nathalie Bibeau is a director and producer of international award-winning productions. She began her career in public broadcasting, producing documentary projects such as 8th Fire, nominated for the Canadian Screen Awards, Africa on the Move, which won the Gemini for Best Documentary Series, and was the Series Director for CBC’s seven-episode documentary, Back in Time for Dinner. She was a key member of the producing team for the highly-acclaimed feature film, Sugar Coated (dir: Michèle Hozer) which premiered at Hot Docs 2015, was nominated for three Canadian Screen Awards and won the Donald Brittain Award for Best Social and Political Documentary. Nathalie has written for the Globe & Mail and volunteered for War Child in Ethiopia. Her work has taken her everywhere from the sub-Arctic to Angola and the swamps of Louisiana. The Walrus and the Whistleblower is her first feature film. She went back to the rust belt to make it.

Bunbury Films

Frederic Bohbot, Producer

Executive Producer of the 2014 Academy Award-winning short documentary The Lady in Number 6, Frederic Bohbot founded Bunbury Films in 2002 as an independent producer / director intending only to make one film: Once a Nazi... completed in 2006. With much critical success, Bunbury expanded its production slate and has since produced fifteen documentaries covering history, art, sports, environment, religion and spirituality for television and theatrical audiences throughout the world. Bunbury’s first feature fiction entitled Boost received 5 Canadian Screen Award nominations winning the Best Actor award as well as 8 Quebec Cinema Award nominations.

Credits

  • Writer, Directer and Producer
    Nathalie Bibeau
  • Producer
    Frederic Bohbot
  • Cinematographer
    Christian Bielz
  • Editor
    Vincent Guignard
  • Story Consultant
    Christina Clark
  • Sound recording
    Tod Van Dyk
  • Original Score
    Anaïs Larocque
  • With Music By
    Patrick Watson
  • Sound Design
    Chris Leon
  • Featuring
    Phil Demers
  • Publicity
    Daniela Kelloway (Clutch, PR)
  • CBC Production Executive, documentary Channel
    Jordana Ross
  • CBC Production Executive, The Nature of Things
    Sue Dando