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A scene from AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (Photo: WealthEffectMedia)

Produced & Directed by Dan Stone

Released by
USA. 90 min. Rated PG   

In this energetic new doc, we’re witness to what many environmentalists might consider to be their ultimate dream. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s third Antarctic Campaign was an arduous race against the flagships of Japan’s whaling operations, and first-time director Dan Stone and a small but fearless camera crew were there to document the excitement. Since 1946, whale hunting has been banned worldwide by the countries that comprise the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. For over a decade, though, Japan’s industries have been exploiting a loophole allowing for the capture of whales for “scientific research.” According to Sea Shepherd head Captain Paul Watson—a founding member of Greenpeace—and many other environmental activists around the world, Japan’s research programs are nothing more than a ruse by which whale meat is harvested and sold for profit.

It’s a true David-and-Goliath story. Watson and newest Sea Shepherd member Alex Cornelissen each captain a ship through the treacheries of the 370,000-square-mile Ross Sea. Equipped with several pontoon-style speedboats, a small helicopter, and a crew of 49 enthusiastic activists, the two ships engage in a blind search for the Japanese whaling fleet. Their excitement wears off soon, though, as fear, anxiety, and doubt visibly set in. The filmmakers are careful to accentuate this moment, a pivotal one in every noble quest. But for the most part, the individual personalities of the crew play a background role to the sheer impossibility of their task.

At the last minute, unlike the two previous Antarctic Campaigns, the team locates the whalers, and their struggle really begins. The Sea Shepherd organization, Watson is quick to mention, is without the funds, the equipment, or the political support available to the Japanese fleet. The captains request aid from a New Zealand news company, as well as a parallel (but non-interventionist) Greenpeace mission, but are denied by both. Mr. Watson has been an ardent defender of the oceans’ endangered species his entire life (he left Greenpeace in 1977, calling them “the Avon ladies of the environmental movement”), and this time, with the Japanese in his crosshairs, he’s not about to back down from a fight. Some of the most interesting points of the film are in the contrast between Sea Shepherd’s careful dance around international laws and an impassioned “f#*k-’em-up” attitude. It’s a beautiful microcosm of activism today.

Another recent release, The Cove (see the review here), describes many of the same issues, but in a much greater amount of detail. A few of the same people appear in both films, including Japan’s whaling convention delegate, Joji Morishita, and Captain Paul Watson himself. Louie Psihoyos, the director of The Cove, described at a recent screening how learning about one environmental problem invariably leads to other, bigger world issues. On studying the plight of dolphins and whales, he learned more about mercury levels in the oceans, and then more about industrial pollution around the world, and finally climate change. One systemic problem exposes another.

At the Edge of the World is a more concentrated experience. The film begins on day one of the adventure, and it ends with the crew heading back home. For anyone interested in real environmental activism, this passionate film is a must-see. The best scenes run on sheer adrenaline, whether it’s a three-man speedboat circling the monolithic whaler, or the Sea Shepherd’s fastest ship wielding the “can opener,” a giant steel spike designed to cripple but not sink an enemy ship. For a real thrill, be sure to keep your eye out for this one. Michael Lee
August 24, 2009



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