Sharkwater Extinction


Apex predators.

(2018) Documentary (Freestyle) Rob Stewart, Will Allen, Steven Kajura, Regi Domingo, Neil Hammerschlag, Tommy Melo, Luis Guillermo Solis, Ryan Orgera, Gordon Hubbell, Deborah Mash, Brock Cahill, Randall Arauz, Rusty Hudson, Eva Meyers, Maike Heidermeyer, Stan Shay, Claire Nouvian, Rebecca Aldsworth, Ryan Walton, Juney Ward, Sarah Fowler. Directed by Rob Stewart

 

The shark is a much feared and much misunderstood creature. Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg did the beast no favors; human fatalities as a result of shark attacks are actually pretty rare. More people die by being trampled by elephants than die from shark attacks.

Filmmaker/activist and proud Canadian Rob Stewart has had a love for sharks ever since his first encounter with one at age nine. He has become a champion for the species; his 2006 documentary Sharkwater which showed the practice of finning – the removal of shark fins for use in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy after which the sharks are thrown back in the water where they inevitably die – has thinned the shark population to dangerously low levels. His documentary got the practice of finning banned in over 90 countries.

This sequel is more or less a status report as Stewart and his team go around the world to see if the ban is holding. Spoiler/No spoiler alert – not really. Several countries which have banned the practice effectively look the other way while fishermen continue to do it, while others (like Costa Rica, known for their progressive stance on environmental matters) have quietly weakened their laws.

Stewart also hoped to get people to see sharks in a different light, portraying them as almost cuddly and certainly not threatening, although anyone who has seen a shark movie will certainly have trouble accepting them as such. There is some gorgeous cinematography as we see these majestic predators in their element as Stewart explains their importance in the eco-system.

Tragically, this is an uncompleted film; Stewart died in January 2017 while diving off Key Largo to film the elusive Sawfish Shark. He was using a rebreather, diving equipment which converts carbon dioxide back to oxygen and allows divers to dive deeper and for longer periods. The mixture in his tank turned out to be incorrect and he died of hypoxia, after disappearing during his last dive which is shown in the film. Considering all the bad players that he pissed off, it makes one wonder if his death was an accident.

I noticed that Stewart’s narration in this film was a lot more restrained here than in his previous film. I suspect that is because he was planning on re-recording it. At times it’s hard to find the passion and enthusiasm that he clearly possessed for the subject, but it’s hard to fault the film considering the circumstances.

His loss is an incalculable one to the environmental activist community. Men like him can’t be replaced. This film will be part of his legacy. He only lived 37 years, but that’s not a bad epitaph to leave behind.

REASONS TO SEE: Beautiful shark footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: The narration’s a bit stiff.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some disturbing content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Following Stewart’s death, his family hired additional directors to finish the film. However, only Stewart got official credit as director.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hoopla, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/12/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews: Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Oceans
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Soul Collector

Chasing Coral


As water temperatures rise the coral reefs begin to die.

(2017) Documentary (Netflix) Richard Vevers, Zackery Rago, Ruth Gates, Andrew Ackerman, Mark Eakin, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, James Porter, Trevor Mendelow, Jeff Orlowski, Justin Marshall, John “Charlie” Veron, Phil Dustan, Morgan Pratchett, Neil Cantin, Manuel González-Rivero, Joanie Kleypas, Rupert Ormond, Luiz A. Rocha, Sue Wells. Directed by Jeff Orlowski

 

Despite the continued denials of those affiliated with various facets of industry and politics, there is no doubt that the planet is warming up. Warmer air temperatures also lead to warmer sea temperatures as well, despite the continual melting of the polar ice caps. Those warmer seas are having devastating effects on the ecosystems of the ocean.

One demonstrable effect is that the coral reefs are dying. Thriving living organisms that help supply the planet with oxygen and its inhabitants with food, they are losing color in a process called bleaching and turning into barren wastelands like an undersea lunar landscape at a terrifying rate. The largest coral reef on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef near Australia, lost 22% of its mass in 2016 alone. At current rates – which are likely to accelerate – the coral reefs will be dead in 20 years. All of them.

Richard Vevers, a former advertising executive, was moved enough by the situation to shift his focus into becoming an activist. Orlowski, the documentary filmmaker whose project on the shrinking of glaciers proved a powerful motivation for many who were on the fence about climate change, was enlisted to help document the process of bleaching.

Using innovative time lapse cameras that can survive prolonged exposure to salt water, Orlowski and his team show the sobering process in which living coral ecosystems wither and die in a matter of weeks. One of the developers of the camera, Zack Rago, is a self-described coral nut who became interested – almost obsessed – with coral as a young boy in Colorado, is one of the more entertaining interviewees. His obvious passion and love for the coral shines through and even if at times he’s a bit bro-tastic, there’s no doubting his sincerity.

As grim as the subject matter is however, there is hope – organizations founded by Vevers and legendary marine biologist Charlie Veron (who is a hero of Rago’s) are working to protect and preserve the reefs that are still alive and possibly use coral from those reefs to seed new reefs. However, the continued rise of the ocean’s temperature will need to be halted before the latter an happen and that will mean cutting back severely on the use of fossil fuels.

There are plenty of charts and figures that are used to measure the damage being done, but the most damning and depressing footage is that which shows a reef going from alive and beautiful to dead and barren. Some of the scientists trying to explain what’s happening get a bit jargon-happy which can lead to confusion but at the end of the day this is an essential documentary that everyone who loves their planet – or hopes for their descendants to actually live on it – should see. The sad truth however is that those who truly need to see it probably won’t.

REASONS TO GO: The underwater footage is stunning. The message is terrifying.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the scientific explanation was confusing and difficult to follow.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The film won the audience award for Best Documentary at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/27/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 86/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chasing Ice
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Shiner