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'Pirate': Greenpeace is for pansies

September 1, 2008 |  2:45 pm

Pirate Paul Watson, the focus of the new Telluride Film Festival documentary "Pirate for the Sea," is a lifelong environmentalist, having started rescuing beavers when he was 10 years old. But as Watson (far left) grew up with and in the environmental movement, he came to believe that organizations such as Greenpeace were more interested in raising money than saving animals.  So Watson steered his boat between the hunters and the hunted.

"Pirate for the Sea" director Ron Colby (right), having worked with Francis Ford Coppola for years and having credits on "The Outsiders" and "One From the Heart," tried to turn Watson's life story into a feature film. When he couldn't get the dramatic movie going, he decided to make a documentary, following Watson and the crew of his ship, the Farley Mowat, as they tried to protect seals from Canadian clubs and whales from Japanese harpoons.

Unlike the observe-and-legislate environmentalists he detests (he calls Greenpeace "the Avon ladies of the environmental movement), Watson believes in direct intervention, including scuttling fishing ships, fouling the propellers of whalers and hauling up other fishermen's nets. As the "Never Cry Wolf" nature writer Mowat says in the film, which is as much hagiography as biography, "This is a guy who never fully grew up."

But his cause played well in the Telluride, which despite the $20-million estates is relatively eco-friendly. Even if Watson and Colby don't leave the festival with an immediate domestic distribution deal, they are likely to attract from the festival's guests many new contributors.

--John Horn

(Photo courtesy Telluride Film Festival)