BREAKING THROUGH THE CLOUDS
a film by Zach Affolter
After 10 years had passed, her podmate and tankmate Hugo bashed his head against the side of the tank and bled to death of a brain aneurysm. Since Hugo's death, Lolita has survived in solitude for the past 34 years, performing the same show day in and day out. Her only companions are her trainers and Pacific White-Sided Dolphin cousins who she performs unnatural behaviors with. Despite the trauma from her capture, losing her podmate Hugo, and enduring solitude, boredom, and stress, Lolita has remained gentle and strong.
It's just incredible how anyone can overcome such grief, suffering, and hopelessness. After Lolita was captured 44 years ago, I'm sure those images of being driven through the inlets of Puget Sound and of her mother screaming her name raced through her mind. Cetaceans have such a high ability to feel emotions because they possess a larger and more complex emotional system than our own. They also have tight social bonds, so with these two things combined it's safe to say that she felt immense trauma, far more powerful than what most, if not any of us, could imagine. But she somehow kept her strength and persevered.
When I filmed her in the Miami Seaquarium the day after the march, I noticed some interesting patterns in Lolita's behavior. She would come up to people after shows and try to interact with them, as if she was trying to get them to understand. After a few minutes, she turned her back on them and swam away. I captured this behavior in my film, where Lolita despairs in the fact that nobody seems to care.
The most heartbreaking scenes that I filmed were the last ones that I recorded when the stadium was empty. Only when people see what goes on after the show can they understand how much suffering captive cetaceans endure. Lolita has circled alone around the same concrete walls for 44 years. She can never see the sun rise or set and never feel or taste the ocean. She is deprived the very things that define us – freedom, family, and love. All she sees are blank stares from people who are fighting to get the perfect spot for taking a photo.
The film, Breaking Through The Clouds, premiered on March 14, 2015 at Phinfest and is now available to view online. After nearly giving up, Lolita remembers her life before her capture. These memories soon consume her and suddenly her mother's last words echo through her mind. She realizes that “love cannot be confined” and this allows her to be “unbreakable forevermore.”
Breaking Through The Clouds was inspired from Tokitae's name itself, which means "nice day, pretty colors" in Coast Salish. If people can look at her suffering and understand what she endured, they will in turn be able to understand why it is so wrong to keep these sentient creatures in captivity, why it is so important to respect nature, and how we can find light in the darkest of times.
Although the film is about Tokitae and her story, it captures what many of us go through. We all get depressed, we all fall down. But it's how we respond that matters. Even when the sky is black and there is no hope, love is far more powerful and, as Tokitae's mother says in the film, cannot be destroyed.
Breaking Through the Clouds dives deep into the questions we all ask in life: Why must we suffer? What is the purpose of our existence? How do we overcome our pain? Are those we love gone forever? Do our scars define us? Is there no way to escape the clutches of time?
My goal with this film is not only to expose the cruelty of keeping cetaceans in captivity, but also to encourage people who are struggling and stumbling through life to keep pushing forward, even when it all seems in vain. But no suffering is ever in vain. In our deepest struggles and hardest challenges we find out who we are. The bad moments in life make those bursts of sun all the more worth living for. When we find love and happiness in spite of the rain, we are unbreakable even though we can still be soaked to the bone. So let us break through the clouds and shake off these chains of pain and misery!