The work of an environmental activist is that of people who work not to become widely known, but to have their work speak for itself as a collective whole. Among such activists is Paul Watson, who is not necessarily a household name, but well known to many who look in the right corners of the media. Watson has dedicated his life to serving and protecting the oceans and wildlife on this planet we call home. He’s sailed all over the world seeking justice and preservation of the life in the ocean, and his life story is one of perseverance, as one of the most talked about documentary entries at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Watson shows, when he was faced with those who disagreed, opposed or fought against him, he stayed his course. Director Lesley Chilcott (producer of An Inconvenient Truth) saw this passion and recognized how important it was to make a documentary about this fearless man for the world to see what waves of change he’d imbue in a matter of decades.
Watson chronicles the life of Paul Watson and his mission to prove the importance of the ocean to our world. Those who are familiar with Paul may have seen his show Whale Wars (2008-2015) on Animal Planet and seen his fight in the Southern Ocean to end the Japanese whale slaughter. While the show does center on Paul, it is mainly about his organization, Sea Shepherd. Watson travels back in time to show how this man went from a young founding member of GreenPeace to the leader of a fleet of determined environmental activists.
The first half of the film follows Paul’s early life and his first jump into the world of environmental protection. Director Lesley Chilcott and the crew were granted access to a large collection of old footage and photos from Paul’s early days with GreenPeace. These were videos that were never shown on Whale Wars, and show some pretty incredible examples of what Paul was willing to do for his cause. The archive footage of Paul standing on top of a dead whale left in the middle of the ocean is emblematic of his passion for the preservation of these creatures. Seeing the look of pure sorrow in his eyes as he touched this massive beautiful creature was a sight that isn’t easily forgotten.
Where the film beings to bleed into the show was seeing the “aggressive” actions that caused GreenPeace to ultimately remove Paul from the organization. While GreenPeace aimed to make an example and show their disapproval of the harmful actions of fishermen, Sea Shepherd was the embodiment of Paul Watson’s desire to intervene and physically come between a hunter and its prey. Not only was this far more dangerous than what GreenPeace did, but it also brought about more attention and controversy. When the film shows the inhumane practices of fishermen who would cut shark fin and drop the animals to the bottom of the ocean left to drown and die, you can understand why Paul felt as strongly as he did.
While this documentary could’ve just been a review and continuation of Whale Wars, it became more of an educational piece with a feeling of overwhelming hope weaved in. At the time of filming, Paul was unable to sail with his fellow crew members because of two “red notices” which made him able to be arrested if he set foot in international territory. Even in a more restricted state, Paul was able to explain how desperately important Sea Shepherd is and how they have missions all over the world.
Along with all of the older footage (which was pretty amazing to see as it was shot on film and had that historical look to it) came some beautiful images of the beauty Paul wanted to protect. The film begins and ends with some breathtaking shots of whales simply floating and even sleeping in the serenity of the open ocean. The choice of music behind these long shots of the sea life was perfect and felt almost therapeutic at times. After hearing Paul talk about how our oceans are essential to life on this planet continuing to exist, seeing these massive beautiful beings drifting through the sea is something that solidifies the message of the documentary.
This documentary does exactly what it should: shed light on a topic or person that deserves the spotlight and the recognition of more people today. Director Lesley Chilcott made her support of Paul and his mission apparent in the best ways imaginable through her filmmaking abilities and choices. There have been and will always hopefully be films like this that shine a light on areas of our world that need way more help than we are giving. While some of the missions Paul and Sea Shepherd go on seem like tiny ventures into massive issues, each small victory they get adds to their overall goal of maintaining balance in the oceans.