New version of documentary will tell the true story of Winter the dolphin

Published July 19, 2012


The news that an updated documentary about Winter the dolphin is being filmed came from a 13-year-old celebrity Thursday.

Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who played young Hazel in the movie Dolphin Tale and will help narrate the documentary, was the center of attention during the announcement at the Harborview Center downtown Thursday morning. More than 250 people lined up to take photos with her.

The movie Dolphin Tale took some liberties with Winter's story for dramatic effect. The documentary, Winter: The Dolphin that Could, will tell the true story of how Winter lost her tail in a crab trap line, was given a prosthetic replacement, and is thriving at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

The documentary now being filmed will update and replace an earlier one with the same title that was produced in 2009 and was an hour long.

"We did the last documentary on Winter about four years ago and, obviously, a lot has happened since then," said David Yates, CEO of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. He and Cozi will co-host the new version.

The updated film will not only add new information about Winter, her survival and her fame as a movie star, it will also include more human stories to emphasize the impact Winter's story has had on people.

Yates said he has seen many children with "major life challenges" who were inspired by the Dolphin Tale movie, which was filmed in Clearwater and released in September 2011. Many children and adults with disabilities have journeyed to Clearwater to visit Winter at the aquarium since the movie's release. Dolphin Tale proved so popular with audiences that the aquarium opened a movie props exhibit in the Harborview Center downtown, and it has attracted crowds as well.

The documentary will help dispel any confusion resulting from the fictionalized Hollywood version of Winter's story.

"People asked if we used the real Winter and 'Did Winter really lose her tail?' " Cozi said. The documentary "literally gives a play-by-play. All the questions will be answered with that one piece of work."

The documentary, which is costing $200,000 to make, will be a little longer than the previous version at one hour 20 minutes. The aquarium partnered with Gabby Productions to make the documentary, which is scheduled for release in November.

Yates said he is working on a deal to distribute the documentary nationally, but the DVD will be available initially at the aquarium located on Island Estates and on the aquarium's website.

The film crew is currently working at Mosquito Lagoon near Cape Canaveral, where Winter, then just 2 months old, was found injured in 2005.

On Thursday, the first child in line to meet Cozi was Ashley Garlick, an energetic 7-year-old with a prosthetic leg.

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Ashley broke her left leg at 9 months old while trying to stand on her own. It was amputated after four unsuccessful surgeries.

Cozi's character in Dolphin Tale, Hazel, is Ashley's second-favorite character from the movie.

Her first is Winter.

"She has a robot tail and I have a robot leg," said Ashley, who was visiting Clearwater with her family from Missouri. "I've seen (Dolphin Tale) a thousand times."

Her mother, Jennifer, and father, Eric, said they both cried when they saw the movie.

"When Ashley saw it, she said, 'Wow, there's something else out there like me,' " Jennifer said, tearing up again. "She doesn't know anyone her age with a prosthetic leg."

Ashley hugged Cozi when they met. Cozi smiled, then looked at Ashley and said, "We've made (the movie) for people like you."