by Jason Whyte
At The Edge of The World - At VIFF '09
“This strikingly humane film may function as a prequel to Animal Planet’s ‘Whale Wars’ but is light years ahead in visual clarity and narrative ambition” – Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times (NYT Critic’s Pick); “‘At the Edge of the World’ is one of those rare documentaries that could easily function as a compelling fiction thriller” – Robert Levin, Critic’s Notebook; “The summer season’s most surprising and thought-provoking documentary” – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com – Director Dan Stone providing me with a few critic comments on his film “At The Edge of the World” which is screening at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (Oct. 1 – 16).
Is this your first film in the VIFF? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend VIFF for the screenings?
“At the Edge of the World” is the first feature film with which I’ve been involved. I haven’t attended many festivals but I will be at VIFF.
Could you give me a little look into your and what led you to the desire to want to make film?
This story seemed perfect for the big screen – the Antarctic Whale Campaign is bizarrely dangerous & courageous and the Ross Sea is one of the most stunning locations in the world.
Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!
To be honest, I never remember being asked that question. I’ve just tried to do things that seemed like a good idea at the time, whether coaching, teaching, writing or investing.
How did this project come to fruition? If you could, please provide me with a rundown, start to finish, from your involvement.
Almost 5 years ago, I saw a photo of the seal hunt and was shocked to see that it was still going on. Eventually, I came to realize that little was actually been done to oppose the hunt, other than fund-raising. A woman I respected in one organization said, “Talk to Paul Watson – he’s actually doing something about it.” When I called the Sea Shepherd office in Dec 2006, I was told Watson was down in the Antarctic, trying to stop the whale hunt. That was the first time I learned that we were still killing whales.
What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?
The Antarctic Campaign almost didn’t happen. Sea Shepherd’s old ship was being held in a South African port and had to sneak out of harbor in the middle of the night, lights off; their new ship was damaged in an Atlantic hurricane on its way from Scotland to Australia; crew visas were expiring; helicopter blades had to be replaced twice, the second time arriving after the ships had left for sea; and so on. Also, we had very little time to get everything together to shoot the film. Three cinematographers met the Farley Mowat in Melbourne and four others flew to Puntas Arenas at the tip of South America to meet the Robert Hunter on a brief stopover for repairs.
Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.
Seven people were credited as cinematographers in the film to acknowledge their courage and skill. Most of the film was shot on the JVC 110u, considered a good camera for low-light conditions.
Talk a bit about the experiences (festival or non-festival) that you have had with the film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings?
We try to have the viewer feel like one of the crew members, one of the filming team (the one place you could be on the ships without being on camera). And because you’re in the middle of it all, things are never obvious, particularly without a narrator to clarify everything. The people I’ve met at screenings seem to appreciate that and their questions reflect a genuine investment in the story. It’s also great when someone who has spent many years in the Navy or Coast Guard says that the film captures the feel of life on a sea campaign.
Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?
Dede Allen, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Terry Gilliam, George Lucas, Sidney Lumet, David Mamet, Walter Murch, Paul Newman, Mike Nichols, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, Rob Reiner, Billy Wilder, Gordon Willis
If you weren’t in this profession, what other career do you think you would be interested in?
There are many things I find interesting and enjoy doing but nothing I’d want to call a career.
Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.
It would be great just to be able to watch an accomplished director on a set or to work with extraordinary cinematographers like Haskell Wexler and Ellen Kuras. Among actors, who wouldn’t love to be involved in a project with Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, Gene Hackman, Tom Hanks, Delroy Lindo, Sean Penn or Stellan Skarsgard? All of them project great sincerity onscreen (the only one I’ve met is Harrison Ford, when he was serving food to rescue workers in NYC – absolutely down to earth, no handlers around him…and it was obvious he’d been working a long shift).
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
The response of critics & the media to independent films, non-fiction in particular, is crucial.
If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?
Radio City Music Hall. When I was a kid, I saw movies there and they were just amazing. And I really believe that At the Edge, for all its flaws, could hold that screen.
What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?
Why spend your time & money to be treated like an adolescent? Both Mamet and Wilder have made the point that movie audiences are very smart.
No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?
Finance it yourself if you can but try not to go bankrupt in the process, and -- an old piece of advice -- love the project because you’ll be working on it for a long time.
And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?
I don’t have one favorite but The Third Man, Network, Brazil, Withnail & I, Chinatown, Yojimbo, The Wild Bunch; Bellman & True, The Shiralee and The Bicycle Thief; Breaker Morant and The Verdict.
This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the film’s screenings, showtimes and update information, point your browser to viff.org – Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2842
originally posted: 10/06/09 17:55:29