Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson

by Drew Kerr on May 10, 2011 · 3 comments

in Documentaries,Film Festivals,Hot Docs

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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