By Cathy Anderson
Australia’s latest award-winning movie thriller? A documentary featuring Hollywood star Dan Aykroyd as the voice of whales, and pitting a “morally bankrupt” practice against Sea Shepherd mavericks in the Southern Ocean.
Defend, Conserve, Protect is built on intense, behind-the-scenes footage of 2012’s Operation Zero Tolerance, the most successful mission ever for marine conservationists Sea Shepherd.
“You haven’t lived until you’ve found something worth dying for,” is the tagline of the movie, which won best international feature at the 2019 American Documentary Film Festival.
One big question it asks is whether the activists are hell raisers or heroes.
Driven by a passion for the environment, the mostly volunteer crews put their lives on hold to journey out to sea in four vessels, Steve Irwin, Bob Barker, Brigitte Bardot and Sam Simon.
In Defend, Conserve, Protect, they then put their lives on the line as they engage in an incredibly dangerous game of cat and mouse with an often aggressive Japanese whaling fleet.
Funded by lay people and celebrities including The Simpsons co-developer Sam Simon and narrator Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters), Defend, Conserve Protect follows the Sea Shepherd vessels as they track the Japanese whaling fleet lurking in Australian waters near Antarctica over four months.
Their mission: Hamper Japan’s efforts to refuel its immense whaling vessels via their accompanying fuel supply ship, Sun Laurel, by literally sandwiching Sea Shepherd’s half-sized boats in between.
Director Stephen Amis (The BBQ) spent two years wading through thousands of hours of footage captured by cameras on the main vessels and smaller, nimble inflatable craft to create what he calls an “emotional, hard-hitting” film.
“The film is about activism and the importance of activism. That doesn’t mean you need to be radicalised. That is a completely different thing,” Amis told The New Daily.
“The film is very much about people power. It is framed from the activists’ point of view, the point of view of the crew and that gives the film its emotional punch.”
The experience was “terrifying” says Eliza Muirhead, a photographer on the campaign and now director of communications for Sea Shepherd.
“Everyone who comes on board knows the risks they are facing,” she said.
“[But] I was surprised on the Zero Tolerance campaign the Japanese whaling fleet were as aggressive and it was as dangerous as it was.”
Amis personally bankrolled the film and raised $104,000 through crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.
Star Aykroyd stepped up to provide the voice of the whales gratis in a rather unconventional narration style.
“Dan is a really huge environmentalist and a big Sea Shepherd supporter,” Amis said.
“I really wanted to create this magical realism voiceover for them and to get the idea across they are very social creatures and similar to humans.
“No one should be out there slaughtering that kind of animal.”