So rascally in tone you might expect “yo-ho-ho’s” and festive eyepatches, “Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist” chronicles filmmaker Peter Jay Brown’s three decades of adventures with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which goes around the globe ramming illegal fishing boats and otherwise making itself obnoxious wherever marine environmental crimes are committed. Not likely to tickle the funny bone of Brown & Co.’s many foes, this unusually antic activist docu should strike just about everyone else as a refreshing contrast to the usual bleak tenor of save-the-planet cinema. Fest travel, some tube sales and possible limited theatrical exposure are signaled.
Capt. Paul Watson, familiar to cable auds from Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars” series, leads an ever-changing group of volunteer crewmembers who buy junky old ships — the better to saddle governments with when they are seized — then boldly sail where they are not wanted. They chase poachers, cut lines in nets that indiscriminately trap huge amounts of non-edible wildlife, spraypaint baby seals to discourage furriers, tussle with native tribes taking advantage of their exclusion from whale-hunting laws and so forth.
Many of these poaching and fishing activities are illegal yet poorly policed (if at all) by the relevant authorities; where such activities are not yet illegal, the Shepherd folk create an embarrassing media stink until the laws are changed. Coast Guards, local residents and fishermen are among those variously dismayed or enraged by these merry environmental pirates (or “sea huggers”), who seem to be having a little too much fun at their job of bedeviling other people’s jobs. Brown’s favorite action, of course, is ramming; his glee at being able to plow one enormous vehicle into another (amazingly, no one has gotten hurt yet during these excursions) is exactly like that of a child allowed to smash toys together.
Striking a Michael Moore-ish posture as the filmmaker/narrator not at all afraid to make a pest of himself for the right cause, Brown amusingly types his fellow activists as “mostly pissed-off vegans,” having a laugh at his own unrequited crushes on some of them. He frankly lays out the media traps Watson devises to attract attention, while marveling at the captain’s ability to locate the odd poaching fleet or other miscreant in enormous stretches of underpatrolled sea.
Travels depicted here range from waters off Scandinavia to the Galapagos Islands to Japan, though in the pic’s grotty but serviceable handheld lensing, they all look pretty much the same — cold and wet. Episodic progress simply stops at the 90-minute mark, but what “Confessions” lacks in structural elegance it makes up for in impudence and frequent hilarity.