by: Marcus Robinson Feb 19, 2007
Sharkwater, Toronto-based Rob Stewart’s debut feature doc about sharks, was a surprising but deserved addition to TIFF’s list of the Top 10 Canadian films of 2006, and should have significant play in limited theaters through positive word of mouth and mainstream press fascination. Strong drama and stunning HD underwater photography will also make it attractive to international buyers in multiple windows.
While it may not have the political pedigree of Al Gore’s cautionary An Inconvenient Truth, Sharkwater taps powerfully into the zeitgeist of a planet in trouble by aligning the survival of the dwindling shark population with our own — ultimately questioning the global consequences of eliminating the top predator in our oceans, which, over 400 million years, has survived five mass extinctions.
Some critics have taken issue with Stewart’s surfer dude voice-over that opens the film and places him as protagonist, saying it distracts from the core story — which is to debunk our fear of sharks. On the contrary, a case can be made that his innocence and lack of polish — he bought a book on cinematography to teach himself how to use a camera — is exactly why he makes the perfect guide.
He’s also willing to take the camera anywhere, which gives the film its true tension. After teaming up with renegade Greenpeace founder Paul Watson, Stewart stumbles onto a trillion-dollar industry driven by shark fins and controlled by the Taiwanese mafia. Demand for shark-fin soup, which has become a status symbol among the rich, has boomed in the past two decades, and the dish sells for $90 a bowl in Hong Kong.
It’s testament to Stewart’s storytelling skill that there’s a greater sense of peril when he smuggles a hidden camera into an illegal shark-finning operation than when he’s surrounded by a school of hammerheads in the Galapagos.
There may only be a handful of people in the world who are willing to hug a 10-foot shark, but Rob Stewart states his case ably and with courage. I began the film with a fear of sharks and left it with a fear of man.
Sharkwater opens on 25 to 35 screens across Canada through Alliance Atlantis on March 23.