“Eco-Pirate” tells the story of a man on a mission to save the planet and its oceans. The film follows professional radical ecologist, Captain Paul Watson as he repeatedly flouts the law, so that he may apprehend what he sees as the more serious law-breakers: the illegal poachers of the world. Using verité sequences shot aboard his ship as a framing device, the documentary examines Watson’s personal history as an activist through archival footage and interviews, while revealing the impact of this relentless pursuit on his personal life. From the genesis of Greenpeace to sinking a pirate whaling ship off Portugal, and from clashes with fisherman in the Galapagos to Watson’s recent headline-grabbing battles with the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctica, the film chronicles the extraordinary life of the most controversial figure in the environmental movement; the heroics, the ego, the urgency of the world’s original eco-pirate.
From the title, you’d expect Trish Dolman’s new documentary to aggrandize the bad boy of Canada’s environmental movement. The surprise is that Paul Watson, the founder and president of the whaler-warring Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, is presented here with humpback-size flaws.
What we get is a complicated portrait of an egomaniac who openly admits he prefers cetaceans over people—even his spouses, it would appear—and is so convinced of his own epic status he’ll crank up “Ride of the Valkyries” before descending upon a Japanese whaling ship. At the same time, he’s an enigma haunted by an abusive father and the early death of his mother and understandably traumatized by the up-close sight of hundreds of majestic whales having their innards blown out by explosive harpoons.
We hear people from Martin Sheen to Anthony Kiedis call him their hero, while others, like former Greenpeace Foundation president Patrick Moore, dub him a loose cannon.
The resulting doc is a compelling mix: along with capturing this larger-than-life whale vigilante, it weaves in a wealth of archival footage of the modern environmental movement being born in Vancouver in the 1970s and action-packed scenes of the Sea Shepherd crew chasing after Japanese ships in the bleakly beautiful waters of Antarctica.
Dolman doesn’t shy away from showing what has made Watson so damn angry over the past four decades. You’ll see what a harpoon can do to a whale and watch the blood from the butcher decks gush out of the sides of the killer ships’ hulls. Like last year’s The Cove, it’s a lesson in all that’s wrong with the world’s whaling policies and how much we’ve plundered the oceans.
So while you’ll probably come out of Eco-Pirate supporting Watson’s actions, you won’t necessarily like him—and after getting to know him over the course of this film, you can rest assured he won’t give a shit.