JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Sharkwater (Director/Writer: Rob Stewart) - January 15, 2007 id="543337086">


4 4
89 min.

Reviewed at the 2007 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Beauty in the beast

Not content with poisoning the planet’s air and irreversibly meddling with its climate, the civilized world seems on track for another ecological/environmental disaster by purging our oceans of the “enemies of man” so that devotees of fine dining can savour shark fin soup. Despite the fact that sharks have roamed the oceans for 400,000,000 years, they have become as expendable as indigenous “savages” wherever greedy (or disenfranchised) foreign powers see an opportunity for “economic improvements.”

Rob Stewart’s labour of love goes beyond mere obsession with our “most amazing and mysterious animal.” Over four-and-a-half years he spent countless hours in the deep, stroking the grey beauties ‘til they purred, documenting their callous demise as long-line, illegal fishermen finned them alive and, having survived his own brush with the ravages of “fleshing-eating disease” (lifting the irony metre into the stratosphere) free diving amongst his fellow survivors nearly as bare as they and equally agile.

The film is a spectacular array of HD technology—the close-ups of the sea horses will remain etched in memory for decades; their tortoise colleagues impressive in their underwater grace; the teeming schools of fish a marvellous image of sticking together when under attack.

Equally impressive is Jeff Rona’s score which passionately senses and reinterprets the mood and tone of the silent creatures with panache, not least of which is the slow moving ballet of the whales.

Still, some mysteries remain. Ramming smaller boats then using a water cannon on the crew barely deterred an illegal catch operation off Costa Rica, but Paul Watson’s (Captain extraordinaire with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) protestation that his ship (renamed for every “assignment” so as not to be recognized by the enemy and sporting a “kill flag” display wall to commemorate successful rammings and sinkings) had permission from the Costa Rican “authorities” to tow the Latino harvesters into port for arrest fell apart uncomfortably—the government’s Coast Guard officials arrested the shark saviours instead. (A query from JWR at the post-screening Q&A as to what role the Canadian government played in this international incident was met with a “We didn’t think to call them” reply.)

It appeared that the protectors would rather play marshall themselves than share the spotlight with those who could (and should) make the point through diplomatic channels. (Where’s Brian Tobin when we need him?)

But all of that’s small beer compared to the important warning that Stewart has sounded on behalf of his vilified friends (the fear-mongering historic clips resonate with the same degree of veracity as Donald Rumsfeld).

Best statistic: Worldwide annual deaths: by sharks - 5; by execution - 2,400. JWR

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Director/Writer - Rob Stewart
Cinematography - Rob Stewart
Editor - Kathy Weinkauf
Original Music - Jeff Rona
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