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The Story of Keiko, the Star of Free Willy

Jul 25, 2013 | Updated Sep 24, 2013

Gabriela Cowperthwaite, with her film Blackfish, has thrown down the gauntlet against SeaWorld and all the other marine themed entertainment facilities who exhibit orcas and dolphins for amusement and financial gain. In detailing the real threat to trainers' lives, and in telling the story of the brutal 2010 killing of veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau by the orca Tilikum, she has galvanized SeaWorld to counter the economic threat it faces from a public discovering the very real effect captivity has these magnificent creatures.

Blackfish may well encourage the public to call for the rehab and release of these incredible mammals. It is my hope that with the release of my film, Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy, that everyone will take a new and serious hard look at the effort to release Keiko, the orca star of the Warner Bros. 1993 hit film Free Willy. Keiko is the only captive orca ever to have been rehabilitated and released back to the wild, and yet he was the most unlikely candidate to succeed in such an effort. All too often, Keiko's release from captivity has been cited by the media and the marine park captive industry as a failed project and given as the reason other captive orcas should not be released. And that fact is precisely why I embarked on the monumental effort to tell Keiko's yet untold story.

No one has ever told the story we're telling. My documentary finally solves the mystery of what really happened during the last five years of Keiko's extraordinary life. It is truly the first in-depth cinematic look at the life and legend of the Free Willy star. The question of whether or not the mission was successful continues to fuel the debate regarding the fate of the other 46 orcas still in captivity in the U.S., Argentina, Canada, France, Japan and Spain.

Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy presents never-before-seen footage of his life in the wild, along with exclusive accounts of his day-to-day existence by his last two caretakers, former Tilikum orca trainer Colin Baird, and Keiko's North Atlantic companion Thorbjorg (Tobba) Valdis Kristjansdottir. I am blown away by the wonderful connections Keiko has brought into my life, through people who knew him, people who were inspired by him, and people who are coming to realize how important his journey was for all of us to understand. It is my hope that in the telling of his life and legacy, the prevailing corporate interests will have a change of heart and embark on a life-long effort to introduce the current orca and dolphin captives to the real 3 educational R's: Rescue, Rehab, and Release.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary release of Free Willy, the movie that led to Keiko's rehabilitation and return to the wild, the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation and the films production company, Joshua Records, LLC, will host the world-premiere screening of Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy, together with a showing of the original family classic, Free Willy, at Hollywood's landmark Egyptian Theatre on Aug. 17. This gala event will bring many of the movers and shakers in current marine mammal protection efforts together with the Hollywood stars and production team from the 1993 summer blockbuster Free Willy.

The world premiere event for Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre on Aug. 17, 2013, is being sponsored by Earth Island Institute, Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, The Humane Society of the United States Hollywood Outreach, Heal the Bay, New Regency Enterprises, Warner Bros., and Joshua Records, LLC.

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