Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson

Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson

Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson (Director: Trish Dolman): There’s been no short­age of the spot­light on envir­on­mental and animal rights act­iv­ist Paul Watson in recent years. In 2008, the Pirate for the Sea doc­u­ment­ary examined his life, the pop­u­lar Whale Wars show (on the Animal Planet chan­nel), which fol­lows his exploits fight­ing against illegal Japanese whal­ing, is about to begin its fourth sea­son next month, South Park sat­ir­ized him in an epis­ode a couple of years ago, and now comes Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson. The film, mak­ing its world premiere at Hot Docs, took dir­ector Trish Dolman eight years to com­plete and res­ults in a finely craf­ted account of Watson’s life’s work, also tak­ing brief glimpses into the Canadian’s per­sonal side.

A found­ing mem­ber of Greenpeace in 1971, Watson even­tu­ally ali­en­ated too many in the organ­iz­a­tion with his impa­tience at a per­ceived excess of bur­eau­cracy and overly pass­ive protest policies. In 1977 he left to start the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which he still fronts today. The organ­iz­a­tion employs aggress­ive, con­front­a­tional means in their cru­sade, whether it’s ram­ming (or even sab­ot­aging) whal­ing ships, tak­ing on other ves­sels in high speed chases, or fir­ing smoke and stink bombs onto the decks of illegal fish­ing ships in an effort to dis­rupt their oper­a­tions. Dolman cap­tures some amaz­ing visu­als, both of the beau­ti­ful scenery and the dan­ger­ous situ­ations that Watson and his crew place them­selves in. A par­tic­u­larly mov­ing scene shows Watson accom­pa­ny­ing Emily Hunter as they scat­ter some of the ashes of her late father, envir­on­mental act­iv­ist pion­eer Bob Hunter, on top of an ice­berg in the Antarctic.

Interviews with admirers (includ­ing actor Martin Sheen and Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis) and Watson’s peers in the envir­on­mental move­ment eli­cit strong love-him-or-hate-him reac­tions, both to his prickly per­son­al­ity and con­tro­ver­sial, agit­at­ing meth­ods. Much of the inter­view con­tent is highly crit­ical of Watson and cer­tainly doesn’t paint him in a favour­able light on a num­ber of fronts (his own daugh­ter admits that he placed the anim­als he defends ahead of the needs of his own fam­ily). This is to the film’s credit as, in con­junc­tion with the equally extens­ive amount of praise he receives, it leaves the viewer feel­ing that they’re get­ting a well-roun­ded por­trayal of the man. Watson him­self says that he has more faith in, and love for, anim­als than he does for humans. Despite his flaws, Watson pos­sesses an oddball charm. Witness, for example, the dev­il­ishly inspired scheme he devises to retire his former ship, named the Farley Mowat, by put­ting the Canadian gov­ern­ment on the hook for the cost, as well as embar­rass­ing them at the same time. Absolute genius.

Effectively blend­ing archival foot­age with the afore­men­tioned ele­ments, Eco-Pirate reveals Watson to be a com­plex, com­pel­ling fig­ure who is ten­a­ciously ded­ic­ated to his cause, which makes him someone both respec­ted and reviled within the envir­on­mental act­iv­ist com­munity. Watson, who joined in the Q&A ses­sion fol­low­ing the film’s screen­ing via Skype from over­seas, says that he is pleased with how the film turned out.

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3 Responses to Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson

  1. Nice review. Here’s a link to the trailer for the film in case you’re inter­ested:

  2. Thanks very much, Kevin. I’ve embed­ded the trailer at the end of the review as well.

  3. Pingback: Eco-Pirate receives great reviews and sold out audiences at Hot Docs « Screen Siren Pictures Inc.

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