Conservation activist legend Captain Paul Watson is the subject of Pirate for the Sea, a documentary directed by Ron Colby and being screened at this year’s film festival. It has been nominated for the Social Justice documentary award. Colby approached Watson 25 years ago and has tried to make a film about him on and off for about 20 years. Five years ago, Colby-and camera-joined Watson’s environmental crusades, resulting in the moviemaker’s first documentary.
In Pirate, Colby documents the controversial, yet affable, Captain Watson on his campaigns with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group he founded in 1977. The film shows Watson and his crew fighting off illegal shark fin hunters, as well as semi-legal seal clubbers and whalers.
There has been a moratorium against commercial whaling since 1986, imposed by the International Whaling Commission. However, there is a loophole that allows whaling for scientific research and aboriginal subsistence. This has allowed for countries like Japan to continue brutally killing thousands of whales annually for “scientific” purposes, although there are more effective, nonlethal methods of conducting research. As the commission has no navy, and no real teeth, whalers in Antarctica are free to kill every whale they can find.
That’s where Watson comes in. His group employs mostly nonviolent tactics, often chasing poachers away simply with their presence and determination. At times, however, the poachers are backed by corrupt governments or firepower, and Watson is well-known for ramming ships and using “prop foulers” to attempt to disable whaling ships. “They’re acting like pirates. : That’s understandable because they’re protecting pirate activities,” Watson said in defense of his tactics. (Watson has been detained and jailed numerous times, and by various governments for his actions. “Sometimes going to jail is just the price you have to pay for social reform or social change,” he said.)
Although Watson was one of the youngest founders of Greenpeace-he was expelled when the Board of Directors found him to be too divisive after he condemned their interpretation of nonviolence. “I find it abhorrent to see a whale being slaughtered and do nothing but bear witness,” Watson said in the film-he is now critical of massive organizations like World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace because a great percentage of the funds they raise is cycled back into making even more money. Colby said of Greenpeace in his Q&A following the premiere, “They do raise a lot of awareness, but they’ve lost their chutzpah.”
One of the most compelling segments in the film features an exchange between Watson and his mentor, conservationist and author Farley Mowat, after whom Watson named his ship. They discuss the reality that humans have caused the sixth mass extinction of biodiversity on the planet; we are directly responsible for the extinction of hundreds of thousands of species around the world, an occurrence that has happened only five times previously in the four-billion-year history of the planet. Watson added that we live in “an anthropocentric world where the only thing we value is that which is made by humans.”
Watson also explained the four ecological laws, which he equates to any other natural laws, including the laws of physics. Those laws being: the strength of an ecosystem depends on the biodiversity of species; there is an interdependence among them that directly correlates to the biodiversity of species; there are a finite amount of resources; and “don’t shit in the water hole,” a concept he said every other animal understands. He noted that we pollute the water hole with 80,000 chemicals daily.
After the film, Colby addressed the dire situation in the oceans by saying, “We’re just starting to get cognizant of this now because there’s almost nothing left.”
Thursday, January 29, at 7 p.m., the Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Saturday, January 31, at 12:30 p.m., Victoria Hall