For filmmaker Lesley Chilcott’s latest film, Watson, she takes a look at the life of a lifelong champion of the sea and the wildlife that call the ocean home, Captain Paul Watson.
The documentary, which screened at the 2019 Hamptons International Film Festival, offers unparalleled insight about Watson, who co-founded Greenpeace, was eventually ousted from the organization, and then co-founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
We caught up with Chilcott to learn more about Watson.
What inspired the documentary?
LC: I have been a long-time environmentalist. But, this film actually came up in an odd way. I was at a dinner party, my husband was asked who his hero was. My husband is German and often just doesn’t answer questions like that and promptly said that he had no heroes. The person said, “Come on, you must have a hero.” He said, “Well, if I had a hero, it would be Captain Paul Watson. That really surprised me. He’d been in the news a lot, because he has an Interpol red notice, which means it’s an international arrest warrant.
I thought, wow, he is trapped in the US, landlocked, can’t cross the border, a port or anything for fear of being extradited to Japan. He’s been on the ocean since he was 18. He’s 68 now. This is the time to make a documentary about him. Is he still leading Sea Shepherd? Is he going crazy? You know, what is he doing? That’s where it came from.
Could you please discuss your filmmaking process?
LC: My process with someone who has an established public presence like Captain Paul Watson, and had some TV shows like Whale Wars, is to go back from the beginning and find out what are the reasons, maybe something in his childhood or college experience or high school, that made him literally devote – he’s done nothing else. He’s had no other job. I mean, he was a journalist, which is a job, but he did that in part to further his cause. So, he’s been doing this his whole life.
I usually start at the beginning, but I don’t start with the hard stuff because I want the subject, us to form a rapport, which we did over Skype before he was allowed to come back into the country and various meetings. I like to build that relationship, but when you’re dealing with a public figure, they have talking points. They know what works, they’ve refined it. So, they say it over and over again. The first time I get the talking points and then I say break that down, and then we go back and the next interview asked the very same thing. Eventually you get to the non talking point answer, and you get to the heart of it all.
After you met Paul and spent some time with him, what did you find were the focal points for the film?
LC: I found two things. One, here’s a real example – we can all carry reusable water bottles like I am here and we can all not eat meat, we can all do these things. But, here’s someone who hasn’t done anything else and has made a lot of legal sacrifices, and legal meaning he is trapped here on land. To fight illegal poaching and wailing and observe life in the ocean. He’s a vegetarian. He’s not just doing five things, he’s doing everything. So, I thought what can happen to you when you make those kinds of sacrifices was an interesting story to tell. That would be the secondary thing.
The most important thing to focus on is we don’t think a lot about the ocean. We think of it as fun, beautiful surfing, sports. But the earth is almost 71 percent ocean. Paul says we should call it planet ocean. Because we don’t think about what we can’t see, we’re actually killing something that’s responsible for our oxygen. Even if you’re an environmentalist, like I have been, I didn’t see all of the connections. I had never scuba dived with sharks or I went to Tonga and swam with whales. These are magical, magical intelligent creatures that could navigate where I was within two inches and avoid me with their fins. There’s this whole unexplored world that we have to think about, and we have to save.
Now in terms of interviews, why did you focus on just Paul?
LC: The whole movie is a master interview with Paul in a warehouse trapped on land shot over a period of many days. He is the author of his life in that sense. Then everything else is either archive material, Sea Shepherd has shot almost everything they’ve done over 40 years. If he talks about a certain adventure or an accident, or when they ran their boats into an illegal Japanese whaler, generally there’s footage of it and I go to that. Because at the making of the film, he had two Interpol red notices – one from Japan and one from Costa Rica – those are the the focus of the film. We went to Costa Rica and we focused on the Japan story.
Is there a message that you want people to take away from Watson?
LC: I hope people realize their connectedness to the ocean. Just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t supply up to 80 percent of our oxygen. And I hope they eat less fish.
After the Festival, where can people see Watson?
LC: It’s coming out in theaters later this month and it’ll be on Animal Planet in December.
What are you working on next?
LC: I am working on a six part TV series at the moment and I am hoping to do another limited series right after that on a to be disclosed topic.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
LC: This is my third time at the Hamptons International Film Festival. I came here previously with Waiting for Superman, another film about Gahan Wilson, who’s a cartoonist that lives in the area, and I was here one other time as well. I think it is one of the best festivals and most pleasant and original festivals around, which is why I keep coming back.