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Killer whale Luna, separated from his pod in 2001 and living in Nootka Sound in British Columbia until killed by a boat's propeller in 2006, both endeared himself to, and was considered a nuisance by, locals in Gold River. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Killer whale Luna, separated from his pod in 2001 and living in Nootka Sound in British Columbia until killed by a boat's propeller in 2006, both endeared himself to, and was considered a nuisance by, locals in Gold River. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

A whale of a tale

Whale's tale gets Hollywood edge Add to ...

It's a long way from British Columbia's Nootka Sound to Hollywood, but with the help of a couple of stars, the story of Luna the killer whale is about to make a splash on the big screen. Actors Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson are co-executive producing a documentary about the famed orca's plight.

The Whale will be a reworked version of the 2007 Canadian documentary Saving Luna, which chronicled the young whale's story. The film will be narrated by Mr. Reynolds, who is from Vancouver, and who married Ms. Johansson in Ucluelet, not far down the Vancouver Island coast from Nootka Sound, where Luna once lived.

Beginning in 2001, Luna endeared himself to locals and made headlines internationally with what appeared to be attempts to befriend humans after becoming separated from his pod. While Luna was deeply loved by some in Gold River, B.C. (he's described as "charming" by one of the documentary's interviewees), he was considered a nuisance by others. His proximity to humans - their boats, in particular - put him in constant danger. In 2006, he was killed after being sucked into the propeller of an idling tugboat during a vicious storm.

His story was told in Saving Luna by another husband-and-wife team, Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit, who are credited as directors on The Whale.

"Working on this film with Ryan and Scarlett was a remarkable experience," Mr. Parfit told The Globe and Mail. "They didn't try to change our vision, but they sure showed us how to improve the storytelling."

Still, reworking the film was a risk, Mr. Parfit and Ms. Chisholm admit in an e-mail sent out to "Friends of Luna" on Wednesday. "We feel a responsibility to the integrity of Luna's story, which is a lot bigger than us, and we didn't want to mess it up just to appeal to Hollywood. Would this harm the film, or enhance it?"

It's the latter, they say. The new version is "wonderfully enhanced," according to the filmmakers, with new footage and sequences, and a new structure. It's shorter, more streamlined and thematically stronger, they say. With Mr. Reynolds taking over voicing duties from Mr. Parfit, the documentary changes from a first-person story to a third-person narration. As in the original, the new film will not include any re-enactments.

Saving Luna had its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2007, then made its way around the world on the festival circuit. It was released theatrically in Canada in 2008. The following year, the founder of the Environmental Film Festival at Yale, Eric Desatnik, showed it to Mr. Reynolds and Ms. Johansson, who "loved it," according to the film's publicity materials.

Mr. Reynolds and Ms. Johansson have been working on the project with Mr. Parfit and Ms. Chisholm, who live outside Victoria, B.C., for just under a year.

Mr. Desatnik is also an executive producer on the film, which is still in post-production, and will handle its U.S. sales. PBS International is dealing with worldwide sales. No deal has yet been reached for theatrical release.

 

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