Sharkwater Extinction

 

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A film both strong and weak which raises questions about just how much structure matters in documentaries.

 
Sharkwater Extinction

  

Being a film critic, I am always concerned with questions of how a movie is structured and in the case of Sharkwater Extinction, issues of that kind arise not once but twice over. However, many viewers may regard that as a minor matter and it can certainly be said that this informative documentary will be a worthwhile viewing experience for all those who are greatly concerned about the deep decline in the number of sharks left in the world. Back in 2006 Rob Stewart made a film on the subject, Sharkwater. It helped to raise awareness of the situation and encouraged increased legislation protecting sharks and the creation of yet more conservation bodies. The present film is Stewart's follow-up, which begins with his return to Costa Rica in 2015 to investigate the extent to which, not least under the then current President Luis Guillermo Solís, a blind eye was being turned on illegal activities born of the value that shark fins have on the market.

 

Initially one has the impression that the situation pertaining in Costa Rica in 2015 is going to be the new film's central focus, but we soon find that the film is moving on to such diverse locations as the Bahamas, Miami, Panama, Cabo Verde, Florida and Los Angeles. Footage from these places is, of course shark-orientated and extends to evidence opposing the use of drift gill nets capable of catching everything and to proof of how toxic sharks feature in the DNA of pet foods and cosmetics. This is all worthwhile stuff, but it is presented in the chance chronological order of Stewart's various investigations so there is no sense of it reaching a climax or building in an aesthetically satisfying way.

 

The other structural issue concerns the film's very odd approach to the fact that its creator and commentator, Rob Stewart, tragically lost his life in 2017 due to accidental circumstances that arose while he was diving. In its early stages the film allows in comments that refer vaguely to associations with him in the past but they lack any clear statement as to his death - indeed this fact has still not been fully acknowledged even when late on in the film we reach a sequence entitled 'The Last Dive'. Thereafter we have footage added to the film in that we hear tributes paid after his death against generalised background shots. It would have been far better to feature the biographical aspects at the outset (both those covered by Stewart himself and those related to his death) and then to have gone on to present his last film as a virtual flashback showing what he had achieved in life. Instead, a montage of old material features at the close, but it feels like a short film in its own right making points that in this context are no longer new.

 

If earlier on the footage goes beyond finely photographed images to give us a romanticised vision (as per the vocal embellishments in the music used), that is partly in keeping with a man whose passion for sharks revealed two key elements in his nature. By insisting that the public needed to know the truth about how sharks are slaughtered, he was being a formidable whistleblower, but he was also a romantic, somebody who not only wanted to challenge the public perception of sharks as being dangerous but who didn't hesitate to refer to them as "absolute sweethearts".

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Rob Stewart, Randall Arauz, Regi Domingo, William Flores, Abraham Stern, Brock Cahill, Mark 'The Shark' Quartiano, Madison Stewart, Diego Cardeñosa, Will Allen, Ryan Walton, Art Gaetan.

 

Dir Rob Stewart, Pro Rob Stewart, Brian Stewart and Sandra Campbell, Screenplay Rob Stewart, Ph Rob Stewart, with Andy Casagrande, Jordan Eady and others, Ed Nick Hector, Music Jonathan Goldsmith.

 

Bell Media/d films/Big Screen Entertainment/Sharkwater Pictures/Diatribe Pictures-Sparky Pictures.
84 mins. Canada. 2018. Rel: 22 March 2019. Cert. 12A.