Starring: Rob Stewart, Paul Watson, Patrick Moore, Erich Ritter, Boris Worm
Directed by: Rob Stewart
Opening across theatres in Canada this week, after a strong festival tour last year, Sharkwater is the product of the hard work of director, writer, and star Rob Stewart, who has spent his life getting to know and understand sharks. Stewart’s documentary takes a look at sharks, attempting to dispel the myths and terror that surrounds them, and to expose the ecological disaster being posed by the practice of shark finning that is threatening to drive the species into extinction.
I’ll admit, I’ve bought into the stereotypes surrounding sharks, that they’re bloodthirsty killers and a terrifying threat. I have a healthy respect for them as a perfect predator, and think they’re pretty cool along with being pretty scary. I probably even went to see this movie in the hope of some vicarious thrills of seeing sharks. Well, if that’s what you’re looking for, Sharkwater isn’t your movie. Stewart’s unabashed love for the creature, and his casual interactions with them in their element, gets past the Spielbergian nightmare vision to present them as a vital part of oceanic ecology, one that is being threatened by human excess and greed that threatens to do irreparable damage to our planet.
It’s an important movie, bringing to light a cause that few care about, but everyone should. According to the film, the highly profitable (and highly barbaric) practice of shark finning has lead to elimination of 90% of the planet’s shark population, which is incredible when one considers that the species has managed to survive over 450 million years, and is now in danger of being eliminated so rich people can have their flavourless fins in soup. Eliminating the top predator in the ocean would have a disastrous effect on the food chain in the ocean, which would end up threatening all life on earth. But most people don’t care cause sharks are scary.
Much of the movie was shot with high definition film, leading to breathtakingly gorgeous photography. Just watching the colours of the ocean come to life is worth the price of admission, and made me consider getting HD DVD just to own this when it comes out and show off my TV. Along with the beautiful underwater footage, the movie treats us to a deep sea battle between eco-warriors and poachers, mafia cover-ups of the massive underground fin trade in Costa Rica, a coast guard chase scene, and flesh-eating disease! This isn’t your grandfather’s nature documentary.
However, while Stewart’s passion and cinematography are admirable, he’s also the worst part of the movie. I’m sure the movie couldn’t have been made without him wearing a lot of hats, as the budget is necessarily tight and few are even aware of the threat facing sharks, much less mobilized to do something about it. But… as a writer, Rob Stewart is a really good marine biologist, if you get my meaning. His narration is hopelessly cheeseball, choppy, and redundant. It’s obvious that he cares very deeply about the subject, but doesn’t know a lot of words to best describe his feelings, and comes off as a little weird. Just as bad is his voice during the narration. It’s kinda annoying. More annoying than his normal voice, as featured in the footage of himself (which is all over the place. Dude has no problem appearing on camera, proving that devoting one’s life to a cause doesn’t necessarily make one selfless). Not everyone has a voice suitable for narration, and the movie would’ve been better served finding a different narrator.
Despite the fact that Stewart is kind of annoying, he has still made an important, and compelling, documentary about a serious threat that I encourage everyone to see. Plus, it has sharks, so it’s pretty cool. More facts about the plight of sharks (and information on the movie, including a trailer) and what you can do to help can be found at its official website: http://www.sharkwater.com/index.html