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Vandals On The Side of The Angels: How Far Is Too Far?

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It's amazing how sometimes movies come out in bunches. This particular bunch is extremely small (does two count?) but they bring up some interesting questions. For instance, how far can a group go before being considered the "bad guy" and when and how much vandalism can be justified before it morphs into terrorism?

The films in question, At the Edge of the World and The Cove, have been playing the film festival circuit for the better part of a year, and are soon getting limited release. Both are really well done, and try to glorify a group called the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a private navy that is currently at war with the Empire of Japan over the issue of whaling.

Now, let's get this straight right now. I am not a fan of whaling and have long supported the ban, but what Sea Shepherd and its friends have been doing has been mostly ineffective and somewhat counterproductive. Part of the reason is international law, which is, with a few exceptions, a total joke. The reason that it is that way is that countries are sovereign and independent, and that means they can do whatever it is they want and the only remedies to this are sanctions and war.

Do sanctions work? No. People who think otherwise generally cite South Africa, but in fact, they didn't work, and the reason they appeared to have is that blacks outnumbered whites in that country by around ten to one. If sanctions worked, Iran wouldn't be working on nuclear weapons, and Burma would be a democracy.

War works, but only if it's done with a solid plan as to what to do once it is over. It is for this reason that quagmires occur, and why groups like Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace, from whom it seceded, get so little done beyond being annoying.

At The Edge of the World follows two Sea Shepherd vessels as they hunt for and attempt to vandalize Japan's scientific whaling fleet in the Antarctic. The Japanese are, surprisingly, extremely tolerant of these people as Sea Shepherd rams their vessels, try to destroy their propellers, and throw poison bombs onto the ships in an attempt to render the catch unusable. In doing so Sea Shepherd loses two of their crew, and spend the better part of the rest of the day looking for them with the help of the Japanese whalers. Cute, huh?

The Sea Shepherds think of themselves as an international police force trying to enforce international law, but as the movie clearly shows, they are not, and receive no support from anyone in any government. It's that kind of arrogance that will cause grief to them and not just the whales.

The Cove, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish entirely. This has nothing to do with international law, and everything to do with espionage. It's also better propaganda for the cause.

The film is mostly about former animal trainer Richard O'Barry and his decades'-long quest to end the trade in dolphins for theme parks. It goes on about his change of heart and feelings of guilt, using footage from his work on the old Flipper TV show, before becoming one of the more obnoxious animal rights activists. But the title is about a cove in the Japanese town of Taiji, where once a year, the local fishermen capture a few thousand dolphins, sell a few to seaquariua around the world, and slaughter the rest for meat. O'Barry and the Sea Shepherds cook up a plan to, not actually stop it, but to document it via film, something the locals, for some reason that I cannot understand, refuse to let them do.

The reason I don't understand why they don't want their activities filmed is that if they don't think what they're doing is wrong, then why hide it? There have been documentaries on fishing and slaughterhouses before and they can be very graphic, but the people who are being filmed don't mind letting people see what they are doing. Director/ cinematographer Louie Psihoyos shows us a great deal of a number of locals who do.

This makes espionage-like actions necessary for the filmmakers and they carry it off with panache, something previous protesters, who are shown, most certainly didn't.

Both films make fun of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and condemn it as a bunch of lackeys of the evil Japanese. These people aren't nearly as stupid as they seem. Or are they?

But the IWC is the only body there is, and when something takes place in the territorial waters of a country, national law takes precedence. There is nothing that can be done short of sanctions or war, and countries' resistance to these people is going to get stronger. There has to be something done about this, and what the Sea Shepherds are doing isn't exactly it.