Breaking Through The Clouds

Lolita, a 50 year old killer whale held captive in an illegally sized tank at the Miami Seaquarium, battles her emotions left behind from her brutal capture 44 years ago and attempts to overcome her grief and solitude.

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.”

Howard Garrett of Orca Network, who has been at the forefront of the fight to set Lolita free for many years, summarizes the film: “Breaking Through The Clouds brings viewers into Lolita's deep memories and feelings of life with her mother, with her family in their natural world of swirling undersea wonders and delights, all starkly contrasted against the bleak walls of her cell in Miami. The film produces profound empathy and understanding of Lolita's plight, and honors her in the telling of her story.”

Dolphins and other whales 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. With these things in mind, it's safe to say that Lolita felt immense trauma, far more powerful than what most, if not any of us, could imagine. But she somehow kept her strength and persevered.

This film examines not only the suffering Lolita and all cetaceans endure in captivity but also important questions about 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 one of the hidden messages is that no suffering is ever in vain. In our deepest struggles and hardest challenges we find out who we are...and may end up changing the world along the way. 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.

  • Zach Affolter
  • Zach Affolter
  • Zach Affolter
  • Christina Nicholls
    Key Cast
    That's My Boy
  • Nathaly Lauren
    Key Cast
  • Killer Tracks
  • Video Blocks
    Stock Footage
  • Project Type:
    Short, Student
  • Genres:
    drama, adventure, inspirational, environmental, ocean, marine life, wildlife, nature, animal rights
  • Runtime:
    7 minutes 15 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    March 12, 2015
  • Production Budget:
    45 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    MP4, MOV (GoPro + iPhone 6)
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Phinfest
    Dana Point, CA
    March 14, 2015
    Worldwide Premiere
  • Orca Capture Commemoration
    Whidbey Island, WA
    August 8, 2015
  • Friday Harbor Film Festival
    Friday Harbor, Washington
    November 7, 2015
Director Biography - Zach Affolter

Zach Affolter is a high school graduate from San Diego, California and is currently studying Marine Biology at Humboldt State University. He is a passionate animal activist and a lifelong vegetarian. Both a video producer and writer, he has done much to help marine life and all animals.

Zach is working on two novels – both in the perspective of captive cetaceans and their lives before and during confinement – and has over 160,000 views on YouTube. Zach has also volunteered to protect sea turtles from poachers in Costa Rica with Earthrace Conservation Organization and was on Peta2’s 2014-2015 Youth Advisory Board - he also won the PETA Libby Award for 2014.

Through his activism, writing, and video productions, Zach hopes to spread awareness about important issues, educate people about how beautiful nature is, and why it needs to be protected.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

Since the day that the historic Miracle March for Lolita took place on January 17th, 2015, I have been working on a film that captures the inspiration of Tokitae's story. After she was captured 44 years ago, concrete walls trapped her inside an illegally sized tank in which she is longer than it is deep. She was given the stage name Lolita. Theme park music blasted as she leaped in the sky only to be clutched by gravity, whose merciless hands threw her back into the tank. Water exploded into the air. People cheered, unaware of her brutal capture just days before. And there Lolita has remained the past 44 years.

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 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 is 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 when it seems all hope is lost.

It is also inspired by my own struggle to overcome depression. One day I considered suicide but I thought of Tokitae and how she overcame everything. As I was walking home from school, a few rays of the sun broke through the clouds and I felt all of my sadness wash away.

Although the film is about Tokitae and her story, it captures what many of us endure. 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.