'Blackfish' director: 'The Jinx' shows the power of documentaries

'Blackfish' director Gabriela Cowperthwaite says 'The Jinx' underscores the importance of documentaries

Viewers of Andrew Jarecki's docu-series "The Jinx" — and anyone else who has followed the strange, bloody twists and turns of the life of New York real estate scion Robert Durst — have been captivated by Durst's arrest in connection with the 2000 slaying of his friend Susan Berman. The arrest came just a day before chilling revelations were made in Sunday night's "Jinx" finale.

It's not often that a documentary work can capture the public imagination as much as "The Jinx" has — and can have such potentially far-reaching effects. One filmmaker who has experienced that kind of public profile recently is Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of the 2013 film "Blackfish."

An exploration of the treatment of whales in captivity, "Blackfish" was viewed by an estimated 21 million people on CNN, and it inspired protests and a class-action lawsuit against SeaWorld.

In a recent phone interview with The Times, Cowperthwaite said "The Jinx" similarly underscores the power and importance of documentary filmmaking.

"Because documentaries are getting wider release now, the powers that be have to react, in a way, once the issue is out there," Cowperthwaite said. HBO promoted "The Jinx," she said, "and it became an agent of change."

Cowperthwaite noted how documentary filmmakers can be extremely focused on a specific case or issue in a way that authorities cannot.

"I can't say the district attorney and the LAPD have the resources to just focus on this one guy and one issue," she said. "Maybe that has something to do with it. Documentarians are so single-issue focused. I chose one whale, not the issues of whales in captivity."

Documentarians, she said, "should be taken seriously. We are incredibly dogged and fierce about trying to understand a story as best we can. Not giving up easily is in a documentary filmmaker's genetic makeup."

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