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SHARKWATER (director/writer: Rob Stewart; cinematographer: Rob Stewart; editors: Michael Clarke/Rik Morden/Jeremy Stuart; music: Jeff Rona; Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Rob Stewart; Palisades Pictures; 2007)
“An amateurish but enjoyable and informative piece correcting all the misconceptions we might have about sharks.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Directorial debut of Toronto-born underwater diver/photographer/biologist Rob Stewart; it’s an amateurish but enjoyable and informative piece correcting all the misconceptions we might have about sharks (like they don’t eat people, as their mouths can’t support that practice) and offering an activist stand on why it’s in our best interest to protect this endangered species (one of the oldest living things on Earth that has been a vital part of the food chain of the eco system even before mankind existed). Rob contends that sharks are “the most amazing and mysterious animal on Earth and the only one that’s perfect.” By the film’s conclusion, he doesn’t quite convince about all that build-up to the shark, but his stance against them being mindless and their wanton slaughter makes a lot of sense.

Rob’s pro-shark, as opposed to Spielberg’s Jaws that preaches the usual mistaken view that sharks are dangerous to people. With considerable passion Rob in his adventurous journeys in 2002 to the Cocos Island, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, sets about to debunk the myths about sharks wanting to hurt people and exposes their exploitation by poachers. His dangerous journey is beautifully filmed in HD technology, but to the filmmaker’s detriment he becomes the film’s star and aims to call just as much attention to himself posing his hard bod in a Speedo as to why it’s vital that we stop killing the shark or we might find that we throw off kilter the balance of life on Earth and find we have damaged the environment beyond repair.

The main part of the film has Rob join forces with noted ecological renegade activist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to thwart shark poachers in Cocos Island, Costa Rica. The shark is being illegally fished there (the government doesn’t have the funds to prevent it) and is being eradicated by pirate fishermen supported by the Taiwanese mafia mainly to feed Asian consumers’ craving for shark fin soup, which has become a $300-a-bowl delicacy status symbol and a popular health food over the false belief that sharks don’t get sick and by eating them we can remain healthy. This has generated a world-wide multi-billion dollar industry and has caused more than 100 million sharks to be killed each year. The poachers are just interested in the valuable fins, and in a process called finning just take the fins and wastefully discard the rest of the fish overboard. After a run in with shark poachers on the Varadero, who were illegally long lining in Guatemalan waters, the good guys expose a secret operation of shark finning but when faced with arrest over trumped up charges that include attempted murder and loss of their boat, they realize the court has been bought off by the Asian mafia and flee to neutral international waters rather than face a fixed courtroom appearance.

The underwater photography clearly shows how peaceful the shark is, as Rob feeds them and interacts with hammerheads without any incident. Of the relatively few attacks that occur, we are told they are all shark mistakes. This contradicts our fear of them which has allowed for the shark population to be reduced by 90% over the last fifty years. If this combo of fear and greed continues, in the next few years there is the possibility of the shark being extinct.

The film also shows Rob was to face another danger—that from an infection in his lymphatic system causing a “flesh eating disease,” which could result in the loss of a leg and possibly even his life. But after a week in the hospital the drugs kicked in and the infection cleared up with no damage. With that good fortune, Rob returns to Costa Rica to see if he can find a way to stop finning. While there, Costa Ricans through publicity from his expose about finning were holding protest marches to fight against illegal fishing.

In what was supposed to be an underwater film on sharks, instead because of circumstances became a noble social conscience film of great worth.

REVIEWED ON 12/11/2007 GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”