Exposing The Real Menace: Our Review Of ‘Sharkwater Extinction’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - October 17, 2018
Exposing The Real Menace: Our Review Of ‘Sharkwater Extinction’

In 2006, activist and fledgling filmmaker Rob Stewart released Sharkwater, a documentary shedding light on the commercial fishing industry’s destructive ways and its decimation of the shark population. Stewart’s goal was twofold: highlight the fishing industry’s unethical methods and teach people that sharks aren’t to be feared. Sharkwater Extinction picks up where Stewart left off. Now a renowned environmental activist, and public figure, he travels the world campaigning for tighter regulations which ensure ethical fishing procedures.

For all the good Sharkwater did (the number of countries banning shark finning increased from 6 to 90), his beloved creatures remain in peril. Crafty fisherman and greedy companies continue exploiting loopholes allowing them to carry on their destructive ways. In Sharkwater Extinction, Stewart travels around the world (Miami, Costa Rica, Cape Verde) and captures first-hand accounts of the fishing industry’s nefarious tactics. And once again, Stewart’s mission to expose wrongdoing puts him in jeopardy. He’s followed by undercover security teams, tracked down by gangsters, and even shot at. The film confronts viewers with shocking facts about how the shark population’s dwindling numbers affect the global ecosystem, and how we’re all complicit.

Sharkwater Extinction -- Rob Stewart

Stewart stops at nothing during his quest for the truth, and he looks damn cool as he pursues it. He uses all kinds of neat gadgets; drones, cutting-edge oxygen tanks, and high-powered photography gear disguised as tourist cameras. Gutsy, determined, and sly as a fox, Stewart gets into treacherous places most documentary crews wouldn’t even consider. There’s plenty of lo-fi, shaky footage as he makes his way through busy street markets where vendors sell shark meat, and we see grainy aerial photography as he peeps through the open rooftop of a warehouse housing illegal shark fins. The film has a globe-trotting secret agent vibe; James Bond reimagined as mellow Canadian. When it comes to documentary footage, real life rarely looks so thrilling.

Stewart’s film accomplishes his primary goal: demystifying sharks. The man believed that people would come around to his side if they could see these majestic creatures they way that he did. There are plenty of shots where sharks, big and small, overrun the frame. They look as fearsome as ever; all jagged teeth and distant eyes – The Jaws theme raced through my mind each time one swam Stewart’s way. But the longer you watch, the more you see the same behaviour. These creatures aren’t hungry for human flesh, they’re curious and uneasy. Despite their menacing features, they’re as skittish as young puppies. It’s impossible to watch Sharkwater Extinction’s footage and not walk away thinking these creatures get a bad wrap.

Sharkwater Extinction

If you’re still on the fence about what’s happening to the shark population, seeing how fisherman treat these poor animals solidifies them as animal kingdom underdogs. We watch as they’re brought onboard ships and have their fins sliced off before they’re thrown back into the ocean to die. Large sharks get pulled into boats and clubbed on the head with a mallet. We also see sharks trapped in nets meant for other sea creatures, left to suffer and die, before they’re discarded. Watching people butcher and bludgeon these animals alive isn’t easy, but the shock value provides enough charge to zap people out of their apathy.

Sharkwater Extinction is two movies in one: an investigative feature exposing unsustainable practices, and a tribute to Stewart and his life’s work. Stewart never finished working on this picture, during filming he died in the ocean, doing what he loved. The closing moments of the film offer a rousing testament to his memory and a call to action to those who Stewart touched with his work. That this film didn’t become a hagiographic look back at Stewart’s life is an exercise in restraint. Instead, it focuses on the noble work he sacrificed his life for.

Sharkwater Extinction broadcasts Stewart’s message loud and clear and instills in viewers the knowledge that sharks aren’t the creature we need to fear. After getting chased, shot at, and threatened, both on camera and off, one thing stands out: the most fearsome, vicious, cold-blooded predators aren’t in the sea, they dwell on land.




  • Release Date: 10/19/2018
This post was written by
Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based freelance writer and pop culture curator. Victor currently contributes insights, criticisms, and reviews to several online publications where he has extended coverage to the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada. Victor has a soft spot in his heart for Tim Burton movies and his two poorly behaved beagles (but not in that order).
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