At the Edge of the World
- Directed by Dan Stone
- Featuring Paul Watson
- Classification: NA
A lone figure climbs to the tip of an iceberg. He pauses for a moment, then jumps into the freezing water below. It's a crazy move - the first of many captured in Dan Stone's hair-raising documentary of eco-warriors in action.
Two ships - the Farley Mowat and the Robert Hunter - owned by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, head to Antarctica determined to hamper the Japanese whaling fleet. Refused legal registration in both Belize and Britain, the ships set sail as pirate vessels, crewed by 46 activists prepared to risk everything in their quest to save the giant mammals.
Despite their own legal limbo, the activists consider themselves law enforcers: Three nations - Norway, Iceland and Japan - continue to hunt whales despite a 1986 international UN ban on commercial whaling.
Success is not a sure thing by any means: The continent's Ross Sea is vast, full of treacherous floating ice, and prone to terrifying weather fronts. The Japanese fleet is the proverbial needle in a haystack: It is entirely possible it will not be found before the Sea Shepherd ships are forced to turn tail and head for shore.
The crew members pass the time on-board readying their weaponry: prepping stink bombs and fashioning lengthy coils of shredded rope designed to wrap around and disable the Japanese ships' propellers. In between, there is time for explosive bouts of seasickness and wide-eyed wonder at the immense natural beauty that surrounds them.
With an impressive seven-camera crew and access to Sea Shepherd's scouting helicopter, Stone presents the 50-day mission as a battle of life and death - and not just for the whales. That this is a serious business is driven home when one of the two-man Zodiacs goes missing while harassing a Japanese boat. The tension - as animosity is put temporarily aside and the Japanese help in the search - is excruciating.
Winner of the audience-voted Best Environmental Film award in this year's Vancouver International Film Festival, the city is a fitting venue for the film's theatrical first run. Founder of Sea Shepherd and skipper of the Farley Mowat, Canadian Paul Watson was also a founding member of the Vancouver-born Greenpeace.
Watson split from Greenpeace when the group turned away from direct action, deciding to take such matters into his own hands. Ironically, during this filmed expedition, both organizations are at sea tracking the Japanese, but while Sea Shepherd shares its discoveries and co-ordinates with Greenpeace, the courtesy is never returned. It's a depressing state of affairs between two groups fighting for the same outcome.
Nevertheless, Stone is smart not to turn this into a personality piece. Indeed, Watson is most often seen on the ship's radio updating the world's press on the mission. Likewise, the motivation and dedication of the crew - most of whom have taken leave from their day jobs to volunteer - is assumed, rather than made a focal point.
The result is an epic tale of hunter and hunted: a Moby-Dick for the environmental age.