Review: Seal hunting is the target of the unflinching documentary ‘Huntwatch’

An adult harp seal sits in the foreground as a helicopter lands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada in 2003 from the documentary “Huntwatch.”
(Stewart Cook / International Fund for Animal Welfare)

The ongoing clash between activism and politics played out on the ice floes of Atlantic Canada is penetratingly — and unflinchingly — portrayed  in “Huntwatch,”  a chronicle of the efforts of the International Fund for Animal Welfare as personified by its soulful founder, Brian Davies.

Originally invited by the Canadian government back in the mid-’60s to monitor seal-hunting practices off the coast of Newfoundland, the Welsh-born Davies would end up spending the rest of his life bearing witness to the wholesale slaughter of baby harp seals, determined to stop hunters, often struggling fishermen, in their inhumane tracks.

Among his attempts to get the word out long before social media was an option, the media-savvy Davies would fly groups of people, from airline attendants to Brigitte Bardot, out to view the carnage first-hand.

As effectively demonstrated by director Brant Backlund, the efforts of the IFAW to bring international attention to the annual hunt didn’t sit well with local politicians who over the years would raise quotas during times of economic hardship.


“The Canadian government accused me of manipulating the media, which, of course, I was doing,” Davies, now 78, explains in his calmly matter-of-fact, Anthony Hopkins-esque, tones.

Produced and funded by the IFAW, the Ryan Reynolds-narrated documentary (it also begins airing on Discovery next week), would obviously have to be considered propaganda in its own right.

Still, when taking in a disturbingly graphic sequence of a clearly grieving mother seal helplessly watching her skinned-alive baby being dragged away in the crimson-streaked snow, it’s hard to begrudge the agenda.




Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills.

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