Saturday, 23 March 2019

SHARKWATER: EXTINCTION review

The follow up to his 2006 documentary Sharkwater, this sequel sees activist and director Rob Stewart dive further into the 80 million shark deaths per year that are unaccounted for.


The original 2006 documentary causes some waves (yes, a pun) on its release, forcing governments to react and leading to the banning of shark-finning in countries around the world. This next chapter starts with a horrific and heartbreaking reminder of the need for action, showing a shark get stripped of its fin for soup and then callously thrown back into the ocean to die. Here director Rob Stewart and his team hope to continue the momentum of their previous work and shed light on the often illegal practices that are putting the future of this species and ours into jeopardy.

It's a worrying statistic that we kill 150 million sharks a year, but scientists can only account for 70 million of those. So what is happening to the others, and why can't governments offer any explanation as to how this is happening in their waters? A small group of activists with relatively limited resources, it's impressive how close Stewart and his team are able to get to high ranking officials in the Costa Rican government, and the danger of meeting people afraid to say too much to them for fear of reprisal from local "businessmen".

The film tries to tackle the problem of a pending shark extinction from a number of angles, meeting tourism fisherman such as Mark 'The Shark' in Miami, who estimates that he personally has killed 50 thousand sharks, although others place the figure closer to 100 thousand. The team also witnesses a spoiled haul of 38 thousand fins in trash bags, seized before it could be illegal transported across the border. Rob and his team also investigate the loophole where, although 90 countries have banned the practice of shark-finning, they haven't banned the import of shark fins. This means fishing vessels just need to move their cargo to a shipping vessel before they arrive into port to get around the law, something his crew capture on film happening metres away from the dock. Another thread of the film is how consumers are being mislead about how widespread a problem the disappearance of these sharks is; proven when, after purchasing a number of products ranging from cat food to face cream at supermarkets and fast food restaurants, they get them tested in a lab for traces of shark DNA. The results are shocking and a worrying sign of how little we know about where the latest 'secret ingredients' come from.

It's hard to disagree with Rob Stewart's assessment that the only reason these destructive and aggressive methods of fishing are allowed is because the wider public don't know about them. The following could be considered a spoiler, but if you're coming to this film with any prior knowledge of the filmmaking team you will be aware that director and driving force behind the project Rob Stewart tragically passed away in a diving accident in early 2017 when filming a sequence for the documentary. The incident is tactfully handled (completed by his long time collaborators) in a way that doesn't overshadow Stewart's goal to raise awareness of the plight of these sharks, whilst also honouring the devotion he gave to his life's work and allowing his message to be heard.

An exquisitely shot film that captures the majesty of the sharks in their undisturbed surroundings, for all the frenetic, undercover photography of Rob and his team turning spies above sea level, the serenity and beauty of the footage shot underwater is undeniable. A powerful documentary that carries more meaning and emotional weight than Stewart could have aimed for, the message of Sharkwater: Extinction is clear. This isn't some practice limited to lawless men in foreign lands, this is something that is happening in people's own countries with the willing participation of your government. An often harrowing journey, the atrocity after atrocity against these sharks shown here asks the audience to step up and do something to stop it. This is activist cinema at its finest.

Verdict
5/5



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