Anger was my overwhelming emotion while watching this passionate, moving documentary about the barbaric Japanese practice of slaying defenceless whales in Antarctica.
Four vessels of the marine wildlife conservation organisation Sea Shepherd set out on their ninth campaign to police the waters of the Antarctic. The location is the world’s only international whale sanctuary, where a Japanese “research fleet” is intent on harvesting thousands of protected minke whales. The vessels are crewed by teams of volunteer eco-activists. The expedition is led by 28-year-old Captain Peter Hammarstedt.
Cameras and go-pros fitted to the vessels capture the campaign over four months at sea. The imagery is magnificent. Seeing whales and other majestic creatures in their natural habitat – even though that only constitutes a small portion of the doco – is heartwarming. The lion’s share of the documentary is given over to the group’s efforts to stop the Japanese ships and prevent more slaughter.
Interviews with the four captains and the founder of Sea Shepherd are interspersed with vision of the vessels trying to cut off their Japanese adversaries. Most concentration is with the eloquent captain of the vessel Bob Barker, who outlines the dangers, but also the pride he and his crew have in what they’re doing. A number of crew also make their feelings known.
The tension is evident throughout, aided by a dramatic score from Ronnie Minder. Undoubtedly the hairiest moments comes when the Sea Shepherd vessels literally clash with the Japanese ships. It is a case of duelling in the open ocean. The only element of the documentary that I found decidedly out of place was the occasional narration of Dan Aykroyd as the voice of the whales. It was jarring. And the lyrical language sounded pretentious.
Other than that, this well-made documentary makes a compelling statement. I’m not surprised it won Best International Feature Documentary at the American Documentary Film Festival.
Director: Stephen Amis
Release Date: 25 July 2019 (limited)
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.