Review: Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson (2011)

Paul Watson is a fascinating person and Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson does justice exploring just what makes him so fascinating.

As an animal rights activist best known for heading Sea Shepherd, an anti-whaling organization, and his role on the TV show Whale Wars, Watson does not fit the bill of a typical ecological activist. He is not a hippy. He does not preach peace and think humanity has a higher potential. Most notably, he does not subscribe to non-violence and was ousted from the Greenpeace Board of Directors in 1977 because of this.

For Watson, standing around and protesting an atrocity but not acting to stop it can hardly be considered preventing violence and is merely another form of complacency. Instead, Watson does all he can do to stop the atrocities from happening — even if that means using violence.

As a narrative, Eco-Pirate is as concerned with the past as the present. In addition to following Watson patrolling Antarctic waters looking for whalers in the present day, we also see Watson’s history unfold through excellent archival footage. Due to this we get a fairly comprehensive portrait of Watson’s activism.

For instance, we see Watson protesting the seal hunt in Northern Canada in the mid-1970s where he physically strapped himself to a cable dragging in dozens of seal pelts and spent large amounts of time in the icy northern water before being hauled up with the pelts onto the deck of the icebreaker. As well, in one of the film’s most entertaining sequences, we see Watson hunting pirate whalers off the coast of Portugal. Instead of sitting quietly by and alerting international authorities of the pirates’ presence, Watson takes matters into his own hands and rams the pirates’ ship. This is how Watson behaves. He’s the Batman of the high seas.

Watson is also a misanthrope and far from a likeable individual. He considers himself an ecological avenger and has plenty of personality defects. Even during the filming of Eco-Pirate he callously betrays his wife and dismisses the modern ecological movement as pathetic groveling. In reaction to this, director Trish Dolman tries to give a fair portrait of Watson by weighing the opinions of those who disagree with Watson with her own clear admiration for him. She tries not to skim over Watson’s unpleasant characteristics, but isn’t entirely successful in this. In the end, the film does reek a little too much of hero worship. However, that doesn't stop it from being an effective portrait of this ecological vigilante.

Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson may feel a little too much like a CBC documentary special with its TV aesthetic, but it’s mostly a comprehensive, albeit biased, documentary about one of the most interesting individuals in the modern ecological movement.

Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson (2011)

Written and directed by Trish Dolman; featuring Paul Watson.

7 out of 10