Written and Directed by Rob Stewart
I had an awfully difficult time getting anyone to see this movie with me. Apparently, a lot of people have issues with sharks. This apprehension was part of the original inspiration for filmmaker, Rob Stewart, to make SHARKWATER. He had been taught his entire life to fear sharks, as have we. The media vilifies sharks every so often to remind us that they are not our friends. It isn’t safe to get in the water after all. Haven’t you all seen that movie with sharks where they eat all the innocent people? It’s as if we have never fully recovered from JAWS. In his career as an underwater photographer, Stewart discovered that these fears are almost entirely unfounded. He could swim with the sharks and get close enough to touch them if he showed them that he did not fear them and that they had no reason to fear him. And so he set out to make a documentary that would demystify our notions that sharks are perversely obsessed with the killing of human beings. What he would discover is that we as humans have already launched a full-scale retaliation against our sworn enemy.
Stewart’s experience as an underwater photographer does not go to waste in this breathtaking film. Stewart’s ocean is one of tranquility and warmth. Over time, it has become his sanctuary and he presents the environment to his audience with the same feeling of security that he claims to get from it. Though he was once very much like a fish out of water, Stewart has found a new home in the ocean and his neighbors don’t seem to mind him at all. The imagery of SHARKWATER was what originally drew me to the film and it does not disappoint. Schools of fish of so many different varieties swim past and mingle with each other that the screen becomes a mélange of colour and movement that is at times dizzying and hypnotic. And though those same fish scatter when the sharks enter the frame, Stewart does not. Instead, he swims towards them and in one instant you see how two species can forget their supposed feud between them by letting their fear of the unknown fall away. For a moment, two worlds collide to create an unexpected harmony.
This only makes what follows all the more painful. Stewart’s shoot took an unforeseen turn when he joined a crew of a militant oceanic watchdog ship that makes it their mission to ensure international treaties protecting the rights of ocean dwellers are upheld. Before long, Stewart and the crew are involved in an international scandal over shark-finning. In some countries, like Japan, shark fin soup is considered a delicacy that when served affirms one’s social status. It is popular at massive weddings and can cost upwards of a hundred dollars in a restaurant. According to Stewart, shark fin trading on the black market is only second to drug trafficking. Although the statistic seems a bit skewed, there are still billions of dollars involved in the trade. For the first time in the 450 billion years that sharks have been on this planet, there are certain species of sharks that are facing serious threats of extinction. Once again, human beings plow through other life in pursuit of the almighty dollar without acknowledging the long term ramifications. See, the planet consists of two-thirds water and this water contains a lot of plankton that produces 70% of the planet’s oxygen. The ocean is filled with fish that survive on plankton. The shark is the ocean’s leading predator of these plankton eaters. If we kill off all the sharks, then the other fish will have free reign over the plankton, which means a diminished production of oxygen for us to breathe. Why do we always assume that our actions have no consequence? And why do we always put money ahead of preservation? You can’t spend money if you can’t breathe.
All of this ecological unrest for soup. Shark fishers remove the fins of the shark, which make up 5% of the shark’s body, and throw the shark back into the ocean to die. Stewart and his crew go undercover into the illegal industry to give weight to their accusations and, as you stare out at rooftops covered with shark fins drying in the sun, you cannot help but be horrified at the sheer size of the operation. SHARKWATER invites you to make friends with the enemy and to see how we as humans are so much worse to sharks than they are to us. The mirror is turned to expose who is the more evil predator and its mouth is not home to sharp jagged teeth but rather to a smiling face sipping down its soup. Sadly, SHARKWATER will not be seen by as many as it should, as people prefer their sharks as foe instead of friend. Bring on JAWS 5! Quite frankly, I consider SHARKWATER to be a hell of a lot scarier.