Documentary Films


A film by Stephan Koester

A production by LICHTBLICK FILM
in co-production with Metropolitan Pictures, Les Films de L´Observatoire, ZDF / Arte, Humanistische Omroep und Discovery Channel
in collaboration with Filmstiftung NRW, Filmbüro NW, Nederlands Fonds voor de Film, Communauté urbaine de Strasbourg, Cobo Fonds, Eurimages, Media II

Worldsales: Illumina Films

72 & 52 minutes / Dolby SR / Color / 35mm & Digi Beta

This story of a white whale could have arisen from the fantasy of writers for Disney. However, it is a true story: On the 18th of May 1966, a huge animal appears from the dirty tides of the Rhine, near Duisburg-Neuenkamp and about 300 kilometres away from the open sea, to take a breath: the white whale. For one month this strange visitor will move the people and the media: it will raise conflicts between animal-rights activists and zoologists, between Germans and Dutch, between the political factions. In the meantime, the white whale swims further inland.

Belugas live in the arctic waters of Canada and Russia. The appearance of a white whale so far south and moreover so far upstream is a zoological sensation of the first degree. Dr. Gewalt, former director of the Duisburg Zoo, does not want to lose the opportunity to catch the whale for his newly-opened dolphinarium. His hunting means range from tenis nets to tranquilizing guns. The local people respectfully start to call him 'Moby Dick'.

The year 1966 marks the peak and turning point of the German Wirtschaftswunder (economic boom). The industrial chimneys smoke like never before throughout Europe. Unexplained sewage water from five bordering countries turned the Rhine - as well as many other lakes and rivers – into a stinking sewer.

There is no single event that could have brought about such a rapid change of opinion in such a wide audience other than the journey of this lonely Beluga. The Germans would become the pioneers of international environmental protection only a few years later and this white whale not only heralded such protection but was a pivotal reason for its development.

This semi-dramatised account of the white whale is told as a documentary road movie with archive materials, newsreels, German and Dutch TV cuts, private recordings, newly-filmed pictures off the coast of Canada and with eyewitnesses accounts. It also looks back, with a twinkle, to a time which seemed almost forgotten: a reunion with spaceship Orion, with Roy Black and Queen Beatrix "Ganz in Weiss". 1966 was the year of major social, political and cultural upheaval.

Joachim Król

Writers: Carl-Ludwig Rettinger, Volker Anding
Director: Stephan Koester
Producer: Joachim Ortmanns
Co-Producer: George Weiss
Commissional Editor: ZDF – Claus Josten
DoP: Ralf M. Mendle
Sound by: Jan Wouter Stam
Editor: Rike Anders
Music by: Rainer Brüninghaus

Festival internazionale del film Locarno

Rotterdam International Film Festival
Planet in Focus