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At the Edge of the World chronicles the controversial Sea Shepherd Antarctic Campaign against a Japanese whaling fleet. The international volunteer crew, under-trained and under-equipped, develop a combination of bizarre and brilliant tactics with which to stop the whalers. But first they must find the Japanese ships, a far more difficult challenge than ever imagined - long-time activist Paul Watson and first-time captain Alex Cornelissen employ an array of strategies in the hopes of finding an elusive adversary in the vast expanse of the Ross Sea. With one ship (the Farley Mowat) too slow to chase down the whaling fleet, with their second ship (the Robert Hunter) unsuited for Antarctic ice conditions and with no country supporting their efforts to enforce international law, the situation becomes increasingly desperate. Against all odds, however, a real-life pirate tale unfolds - a modern-day "David vs. Goliath" adventure. Written by
This movie goes where few have gone before. Literally, into the void of the Antarctic Ocean. Specifically, the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Documentaries usually are these seemingly long accounts with celebrity voice over narratives that explain what is occurring as you passively watch. The Edge of the World is none of that. This film documents through action and adventure, the struggle between the Lilliputian Navy of the Sea Shepherd Organization and the whaling vessels of the nation of Japan (Harpooning upwards of 1000 whales in the sanctuary each year, ostensibly for research). A David and Goliath epic of biblical proportion. This film places you right on the ship alongside a crew of volunteers from all walks of life, for this mission. The rag tag Sea Shepherd fleet of two rust-bucket ships with aging engines and electronics, a few inflatable Zodiac, dingy size boats with outboard motors, and a gnat sized helicopter sets out to search the vastness of the millions of square miles of frigid ocean in the hopes of finding the Japanese whaling fleet. Needless to say, you are taken along for the ocean ride of your life. This is not your reality TV show where you are the spectator to a contrived plot or where you are shamelessly emotionally manipulated at key sections in the film. What the crew feels, you feel, because the directors and editors brilliantly weave you into the situations shipboard. You are elated that you are finally off on this mission to disrupt the slaughter of whales in this pristine sanctuary. You feel the biting below zero cold as you chip off the ice covering everything after a devastating storm. By the way, you definitely experience the rolling and pitching and seasickness right along with the crew during the storm. You are anxious, not being able to find the Japanese main processing ship. They have superior technology to evade your efforts. Yet, finally you make contact and pursue. The chase is on, cat and mouse, and ironically, you are the cat. However the Japanese captain is cunning. I suggest you see the movie to appreciate the ending.
If you think you are going to be stuck below decks on this voyage, think again. The stunning beauty of this wilderness is breathtaking. The film has one two awards for cinematography. There are so many harrowing life threatening events on this adventure it is hard to single out only a few. The crew seems to think these are a matter of course. Not!!!. For instance, there is a scene with this little soup can of a helicopter flitting about looking for the Japanese fleet when the pilot radios in that he has to land because he has fumes in the gas tank "so slow down the ship, I can only land this once". No aircraft carrier, no jet hooks, just a bobbing moving ship and a garage door size platform to land on. Nerves of steel as far as I am concerned. A second scene that stops your heart is when one of the zodiacs on a mission to slow down the Japanese ship they were pursuing goes missing. The two volunteers on this little tub toy are in the middle of an unknown nowhere. This inflatable isn't even a blip on the screen. The weather turns bad and the visibility ends at the tip of your nose. A stomach turning 8 hour search ends on a fortunate note. Perhaps I would have volunteered for something like this in my younger days. But after watching their reality, I am very comfortable viewing the movie in a theatre than being there, knowing that in that hostile environment one misstep and your life is over.
The Edge of the World is currently (at the writing of this review) doing the film festival circuit. It has won numerous awards, both here in the United States and abroad. In my opinion, documentary films need less third person narrative and more of the "bring me along with you" that you get when you watch this movie. When you get to see this film on the big screen, (I have not read anything about a general release date yet), you will need to stay right through the credits. True to form, you are pleasantly surprised at how the filmmaker continues to add depth to who the crew are, and where they call home. (I think it is called back-story in movie jargon). Speaking of back-story, there is also a back-story as to how the film has matured since its first festival in Toronto.
The producer, Dan Stone, has continued, based on audience reaction and his own personal conviction, to hone and improve The Edge of the World throughout the usual festival circuit. Most producers, I assume, don't continue to better the entertainment value and message, once the film is, as they say, in the can. As luck would have it, last year, I was fortunate to see the film that was presented in the Toronto festival and recently, the final version that was shown at the Los Angeles festival. This film has undergone its own metamorphosis, and is the better in both entertaining us as an audience and in bringing the message of individual empowerment to face seeming insurmountable odds. The Edge of the World makes the journey worthwhile on both accounts.
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