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Sharkwater

Reviewed By Jason Whyte
Posted 04/17/07 17:25:38

"A great documentary on why it’s safe to go back into the water."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Rob Stewart has more courage than I do. Here is a man who is fascinated by sharks, what makes them tick and has no problem convincing anyone that they are not nearly as fierce and dangerous as one may think. We live in a society built on fear, and the public, media and even political power fear them. That movie “Jaws” from over thirty years ago probably didn’t help matters either. “The shark’s in the water. OUR shark.”

Writer-director Stewart doesn’t believe any of that, and has set out and succeeded in creating an informative and incredibly entertaining documentary on not only our culture’s reaction to the massive critters, but he also wisely pays tribute to them by filming beautiful underwater footage of sharks in movement. Add to that, the film gently bends over into the political territory of international shark poaching and gives us something to stand up and have great concern over.

As the film begins, we see Stewart as he prepares to go underwater to film this footage. As he does this, he clearly explains what to do and what not to do while underwater visiting the creatures. Stewart has trained and experienced like every good diver should, and I was very impressed at his courage to go and explore this subject.

I say this because even though shark attacks are rare and not as prominent as some people bring on, they can still occur due to carelessness. (If Bruce the Shark was any indication in “Finding Nemo”, they quite enjoy the sight and smell of blood, even if they’re trying to fight the urge.) Stewart knows what he is doing and knows how to respect and play nice with the mammals, and they return the kindness.

One of the documentary’s best moments involves a vintage instructional film on how to avoid shark attacks. According to that film, slapping the water, yelling into it and throwing pieces of paper (assuming that is, you have paper on you while stranded in shark infested waters) will evade all shark attacks. The film is very 50’s and very ignorant to the culture’s fear on those pesky mammals, and you have to remember that this was also a time where films told you to “duck and cover” on the threat of a nuclear explosion.

I should also mention that Stewart’s documentary is not just a visual love letter to the animal and is not wall-to-wall with underwater cinematography (although I must admit that the high-definition cinematography is wonderful and one of the film’s strongest points).There are also some telling segments in the film that deal with shark poaching. It has been a long part of Japanese tradition to make and serve shark fin soup, and is even a tradition for the emperor of Japan.

Stewart eventually winds up on the boat crew of a Greenpeace-like organization whose mission is to track down and stop poaching boats in southern oceans. Some are stopped (some are even rammed or tagged to be taken back to port to be arrested), but many aren’t due to the United Nations disallowing non-profit groups to use law on poaching boats in international waters. With all of the numerous illegal poaching operations that occur over the course of the film and a dwindling shark population, I believe it is time to turn the tradition of serving shark fin soup into something beef-related instead.

“Sharkwater” does on occasion go into preaching to ‘Save The Sharks’, but what Stewart says is right; that these mammals are an integral part of our ecology and should not be obliterated for financial gain. And they should not be feared but loved and respected as a part of our troubled planet. This is a well-made and informative docu that will no doubt open a few eyes.

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