Toronto Star Review

‘Sharkwater’: Let us prey

Mar 23, 2007 04:30 AM
Peter Howell
Movie Critic

A documentary about sharks and their human predators. Written and directed by Rob Stewart. 89 minutes.
At major theatres. PG
The vast majority of humans would have trouble accepting filmmaker Rob Stewart’s contention that sharks are “the most amazing and mysterious animal on Earth and the only one that’s perfect.”

More common would be the view that sharks must be feared and hunted. Ask almost any swimmer who has ever ventured near waters inhabited by sharks and the only thing perfect about the experience would be the fear.

That’s exactly why Stewart made Sharkwater, his debut. The Toronto marine biologist and photographer wants to put to rest the persistent belief that sharks are out to get us, when the reverse is actually true.

Stewart has journeyed around the world photographing sharks in the wild, with breathtaking results.

In the process he’s become an evangelist for the pro-shark gospel, insisting that these sleek beasts do humans much more good than harm. What’s more, they don’t really like to eat people because “most sharks are picky eaters.”

Even if they were a genuine menace, these noble animals may not be around much longer to worry about. Beneath the waves, they’re on the top of the food chain, an essential part of the marine kingdom. On land, however, they’re just on top of the menu.

Stewart shows how sharks are being hunted to the point of extinction by poachers who want only their fins, a delicacy prized in Asia that sells for $200 (U.S.) a pound. The rest of the flesh is shamefully thrown away.>

He makes himself the main human star of Sharkwater, as he and ecological activist Paul Watson join forces to thwart poachers. Their problem is convincing the masses that a feared predator needs love and protection, just like cute pandas and elephants. They also have to persuade nations to first enact laws against poaching and then to put some muscle behind them.

When Stewart takes his camera underwater, showing us high-definition visions of hammerheads and other wondrous sights, the effect is enough to make you swoon.

Too often, though, he turns the focus on himself, breaking the spell. A lengthy segue into a serious health problem he suffered during his research drags the picture and should have been trimmed or removed. The story here is the shark’s problems, not Stewart’s.

Yet there is undeniable power in these frames. How strange to gaze upon the jaws of the most feared creatures on Earth, and to contemplate how they are no match for the teeth of man.