Film review by: Witney Seibold


            Sharks, thanks largely to the movie “Jaws,” are seen as horrifying monsters of the deep that do nothing more than stalk and eat people. People look at their creepy faces and see malevolent intent. People look at their jagged, knife-like teeth and see tools of destruction eager to be used.

            “Sharkwater,” a new nature documentary film by first-time director Rob Stewart, points out some startling statistics on sharks, which may fly in the face of these popular images. For instance: soda machines kill more people per year than sharks. Hammerhead sharks have never been known to kill anyone. The largest breed of shark, the whaleshark, actually eats plankton like its whale-y brethren. And that sharks are one of the old vertebrates on the planet, surviving the likes of dinosaurs and lizards.


            In fact, “Sharkwater” also points out that sharks are evolutionary catalysts; predators that, thanks to their efficiency in hunting, encourage other species to evolve. They play a vital part in ancient and current food chains.


            Stewart, an underwater photographer, has always been fascinated by sharks, and was alarmed to learn that their numbers were dwindling (most shark species are currently endangered). He packed up his gear, teamed up with an amusing team of eco-vigilantes (yes, eco-vigilantes; they, without the sanction of any government or law enforcement group, spear and sink pirate ships in modern-day sea battles) led by the doughy and resolute Paul Watson. Stewart goes to the Galapagos Islands and the seas of Costa Rica, places where mass fishing is illegal, and finds any number of hard working sealife slaughterers there. Even though what they do is illegal, when Stewart and his team try to stop them and report them, it is the pirates who get to sail away, and the vigilantes who are arrested for interfering in big business operation.


            Big business? Well, it turns out that the shark fin soup industry pulls down billions. Shark fin soup is seen as a symbol of status in many Asian nations, much like fur coats were/are in the west. Pirates illegally yank sharks out of the water, cut off their fins, and throw the still-wiggling shark back in the water where it drowns. The fins are dried and packaged and sold to consumers who add it to soup. The fins have little to no flavor.


            “Sharkwater” was made for a very modest budget, and Stewart spends a lot of screentime narrating and showing himself. Sadly, his decision to narrate himself probably robs from a lot of the film’s impact, as Stewart sounds like Keanu Reeves in “Point Break” and looks like Matt Adler from “North Shore.” What he is showing is an ecological tragedy, but his surfer dude voice and hot swimsuit model body distract from the seriousness of the issue; he can come across as a high school student doing a report.

             But Stewart’s photography is first rate, his point is valid, and his unending quest to fight prejudice, pirates, and Earth-destroying big business is nothing short of inspiring. This next sentence will sound like typical crit baiting, but it will change the way you think about sharks.

Published in: on November 12, 2007 at 7:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

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