A David and Goliath Story
The Sea Shepherd ships were run by a total of 48 crew members, most of whom had never before sailed in Antarctic waters. They were volunteers from various nations, and all had signed on to save whales from the Japanese fleet's harpoons.
In chronicling the mission, documentary director Dan Stone shows that the Sea Shepherd Society's strategy of intervention called for the disabling of the Nisshin Maru and other Japanese ships by fouling their propellers or creating holes in their hulls above the water and fuel lines. But the Sea Shepherd's crews' first challenge was to locate the Japanese ships in the vast Ross Sea or beyond, and then to position themselves so that they could take action. Finding the Japanese fleet is a difficult task that takes weeks. The Ross Sea is not only vast, it's treacherous. Ice floes and bergs about, and storms stir up without warning. The crew suffers from sea sickness, and there are at risk of running out of fuel before they run into any Japanese factory ships. We see the crew in training, riding in rubber Zodiacs from which they will toss ropes that will snag in the Japanese ships' propellers. There's a man overboard emergency and other such events that establish just how dangerous Antarctica -- and their mission -- can be.
Presenting The Issue
The documentary shows us how whales, which are harpooned and then allowed to bleed out into the sea, are treated inhumanely. Sea Shepherd is committed to saving as many whales as possible from this fate, one whale at a time. The society was founded by Paul Watson, who now helms the Farley Mowat. Watson was also a founder of Greenpeace, but left that organization because it observes and reports, but does not intervene to prevent whale deaths. We see this in the documentary.
The Sea Shepherd ships have also lost their registry due to pressures placed on the issuing governments. So both the Farley Mowat and Robert Hunter are sailing without flags. In fact, they both fly pirate flag -- because they're technically pirate ships and can, therefore, be boarded and scuttled if they are caught. The crew members can be subject to prosecution. So, you understand that the sense of mission is keen, and the commitment to it complete. Risking death or jail, they will save whales!
At The Edge of the World has a different perspective. For one thing, unlike the others, it takes place on ships at sea, and it projects the crew's sense of social -- as opposed to scientific -- mission and their spirit of activism. For audiences, that translates into a wild ride, a gripping do or die drama aboard ships vulnerable to any number of life threatening mishaps. The crew's genuine challenges seem more akin to the exciting explorations of the heroic Ernest Shackleton, as revealed in documentaries such as The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition (2000), than to the patient and painstaking work of research station-based scientists, as shown by Aghion, or to tale-teller Herzog's rather superficial observations about seasonal research station workers' daily life.
Antarctica is an enthralling environment. At The Edge of the World really takes you there, and it's a great place to go.
Presenting the Personnel
Japanese crews appear on the Nissan Maru's deck when Sea Shepherd ships and zodiacs approach, and via radio conversations. They're always addressed with courtesy and respect, but they're clearly the enemy.
The last group of characters are the whales --and they are, quite simply, magnificent. They're the reason for voyage and film and, while the film's focus is really on the ships' crews rather than on whales, the footage of spouting and breaching cetaceans is marvelous. You want them to live.
The Bottom Line
At The Edge of the World is a superb advocacy documentary and travelog that presents a compelling cause, fascinating cast of characters, eventful and dramatic story and artful cinematography. It takes you to a place you might not otherwise know and presents it in the genuine fullness of event and experience.
If You Like This Film, You May Also Like:
- At The Edge of the World - 2008
- Director: Dan Stone
- Release Date: July 10, 2009 (limited)
- Running Time: 90 mins.
- MPAA Rating: PG-13
- Location: Antarctica
- Language: English
- Production Company: Endeavor Media