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

Racing Extinction


Bringing the Blue Whale to you.

Bringing the Blue Whale to you.

(2015) Documentary (Abramorama) Louie Psihoyos, Shawn Heinrichs, Elon Musk, Jane Goodall, Christopher W. Clark, Leilani Munter, Ady Gil, Charles Hambleton, Austin Richards, Paul Hilton, Heather Dawn Rally, Michael Novacek, Travis Threikel, Stuart Pimm, Joel Sartore, Kirk Johnson, David Doubilet, Charlie Veron, Lester Brown, Synte Peacock, Elizabeth Kolbert. Directed by Louie Psihoyos

Louie Psihoyos, a former contributor to National Geographic (now Fox’s National Geographic), made a literal splash on the national cultural scene with his documentary/thriller The Cove, which exposed the mass slaughter of dolphins on a particular Japanese island. Now a committed marine activist, he turns his focus to a much broader issue.

We are undergoing one of the most massive carbon spikes in our atmosphere in the history of the planet; the amount of carbon in our atmosphere currently is thought to be higher than it was when the dinosaurs went extinct, a very sobering thought. One of the consequences of the increased carbon has that it has been getting absorbed by the ocean, our planet’s great filter. The result has that the ocean has been gradually become more acidic, which in turn has killed a significant amount of phytoplankton, which provides about 50% of the world’s oxygen.

There has also been a die-off of entire species, one of the worst in recorded history. Psihoyos and his band of eco-activists can show the direct link between the activities of man and the disappearance of species. He takes hidden cameras into Chinese merchants who sell endangered species for consumption – piles of shark fins piled as high as the eye can see and manta gills, taken because a group of natives in Malaysia believe that they cure cancer. Often the folk medicines of one small group can through the miracle of the internet and word of mouth become fashionable elsewhere. He also uses operatives to bust a trendy L.A. eatery for selling sushi made with endangered whale meat.

Psihoyos pairs up with tech CEO turned activist Shawn Heinrichs to expose those who are flouting the laws governing endangered species; he also utilizes some gorgeous images of whales, sharks and other marine life from cinematographers Sean Kirby, John Behrens and Petr Stepanek. Psihoyos states bluntly that part of his mission is to introduce these animals to a mass audience; hopefully getting people familiar with these species will inspire people to help save them.

While the facts that are given are sobering, the movie isn’t without a bit of fun. Psihoyos enlists race car driver Leilani Munter and projectionist Ady Gil to create mobile holographic displays on skyscrapers in New York (a demo of which can be seen above). And some of the animal footage is bound to bring a smile to your face.

There’s also the less fun stuff but is no less fascinating. Special filters allow us to see carbon and methane emissions going into the atmosphere from car exhausts, factories and cows. Like An Inconvenient Truth, Psihoyos uses graphs and charts to make his point. And while I tend to be a supporter of environmental causes, conservative readers will note that Psihoyos attributes almost all of the extinctions to man and certainly man is culpable for a lot of it, but some of the factors for some of these extinctions may be more Darwinist than capitalist.

All things considered, this is an important, serious subject which is treated with the gravity that it deserves. It does end on a hopeful note; there are things that we can do as individuals to help nurture the planet and assist in staving off a lot of the dire things that the movie refers to. I suspect that supporters of Donald Trump will probably find this an uncomfortable viewing and might write it off as liberal Pinko Hollywood alarmist propaganda. Certainly the movie has a point of view that appeals more to left-leaners. Still, this is vital viewing for all of us – the facts are indisputable and heart-breaking, particularly when you hear the warbling of a Hawaiian songbird, the last of his species, singing a mating call for a partner who will never come.

Incidentally, if Racing Extinction doesn’t play theatrically in a city near you, the movie will be broadcast on the Discovery channel later on this fall. Check your local listings for date and time. If you can’t see this in a theater – and I would urge you to so as to take advantage of some of the truly gorgeous imagery, then this would be the next best thing. Either way I would urge you to see it.

REASONS TO GO: Amazing cinematography. Sobering but hopeful.
REASONS TO STAY: May not appeal to those leaning to the right.
FAMILY VALUES: Some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There is nothing trivial about this.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/19/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blackfish
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Cop Car