Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Hot Docs: Eco Pirate

Eco Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson - Trish Dolman

At the end of our lives, when all is said and done and we've involuntarily donated our beings to the fertile soil of the earth, will we have left a legacy? Will our existences, however small or minute, leave an imprint on even a small number of others so that we may be remembered?

In Eco Pirate, director Trish Dolman explores the frailties of life and the destructiveness of man, but most importantly closes in on and lends context to a person who, like him or not, will leave quite a meaningful legacy after he has given up ramming fishing boats and risking his life on the high seas. Paul Watson, the film's central subject and raison d'etre, holds an important and influential position in the worlds of Greenpeace, the Sea Shepherd program, and the active movement toward a more engaged preservation of oceanic life over the course of the last six decades. As much a history of the convergence of the environmental and peace movements during the 1960s as it is a biographical doc of its central character, Eco Pirate is a mammoth undertaking, a two hour culmination of over seven years' worth of shooting, editing, and archival research.

Set around Watson and his crew's present-day voyage from British Columbia to Northern Antarctica, a trip that will see them (hopefully) catching up to illegal Japanese fishing vessels in a restricted Whale sanctuary, Dolman seamlessly blends contemporary interviews with characters such as Watson, Bob Hunter, Paul Spong, and Patrick Moore with archival footage of each member disruptively protesting against whale fishing vessels and seal hunters during the emergence of Greenpeace in the 1970s. At once a tense action thriller, an informative oral history of an influential foundation (and its renegade problem child), and a warning eco-disaster picture, the seamless editing between past and present alongside beautiful lens flares and charismatic characters is ultimately bogged down by promising ambition. While Watson and his crew's blaring Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" marks a sort of tribute to Francis Ford Coppola's classic Apocalypse Now, the film then immediately switches to a discussion of its protagonist's problematic ego, to his failed marriage, to his time in Greenpeace, and back again. It is a heavy undertaking that, when properly balanced, works wonders.

The first three quarters of the documentary are informative, intense, and outright enjoyable. Like Louie Psihoyos' The Cove, the sense of urgency developed by the film's present-day quest alongside its quick and powerful editing keeps its viewers on the edge of their seats. It lingers just long enough on factual evidence supporting Watson's vision (such as the demonstration of loopholes in Japanese statutes that have allowed them to poach Fin and Humpback whales as recently as 2009) as well as anecdotal reminiscences that add a human flavour to the proceedings (like a visit from Brigitte Bardot that brought Watson some attention in the 70s) that the viewer has little time to sit and ponder. This changes, however, once the adventure ends. There is a specific block near the end of the film that just seems to drag on, and this could definitely be attributed to the fact that the director shot so much footage. It takes away from an otherwise terse picture that is as impacting as it is informative. All in all, it's a well-meaning film that could benefit from some more trimming, relegating some of its later material to a special feature or follow-up picture. Paul Watson is enough of a character that he will not be forgotten anytime soon, and this picture proves it.

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