At one point Mr. Watson’s crew halts an illegal fishing operation by drenching the boat with water cannons and then ramming it, only to be arrested later for attempted murder — a reversal for which the film blames the influence of Taiwanese mobsters operating illegal shark fin processing plants in Costa Rica. The intrepid Mr. Stewart violates house arrest to capture hidden-camera images of plant interiors and shots of severed fins drying on a warehouse roof.
Mr. Stewart dilutes the movie’s urgency by framing the subject within a “personal journey” format and selling himself as a hunky, sensitive martyr.
There’s nothing wrong with highlighting Mr. Stewart’s shark-obsessed youth and including shots of him hugging the creatures and rubbing their tummies as if they were big dogs. These touches dovetail with a desire to refute the demonizing influence of “Jaws,” the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” and the like; they’re of a piece with Mr. Stewart’s comments about the creatures’ intelligence and biological complexity and his insistence that most shark bites are exploratory rather than aggressive.
It’s harder to defend the film’s long, pointless account of Mr. Stewart’s hospitalization with a blood infection and its numerous shots of the hard-bodied young director posing like Tiger Beat’s answer to Jacques Cousteau. (The film’s PG rating should include a special warning for parents of tween children: “Caution: Images of Mr. Stewart in a Speedo may induce puberty.”)
But the issues here are so dire that you can hardly fault Mr. Stewart for trying to sell his clarion call by any means necessary.
Mr. Stewart’s movie audaciously characterizes the pillaging of the oceans — and the world’s indifference to it — as a moral blot on human history equal to that of the slave trade. It builds its case with quotations from sympathetic conservationists (including Mr. Watson) and mournful sequences depicting the capture, butchery and abandonment of sharks, shot and edited to evoke the horrors of the Middle Passage. Brazenly melodramatic and furiously angry, “Sharkwater” aims to be nothing less than the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” of aquatic conservation: propaganda with teeth.
“Sharkwater” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested) for images of animal cruelty, thematic elements, language and some smoking.
Opens today nationwide.
Written, produced and directed by Rob Stewart; director of photography, Mr. Stewart; edited by Michael Clarke, Rik Morden and Jeremy Stuart; music by Jeff Rona; released by Sharkwater Productions. In Manhattan at the Village VII, 66 Third Avenue, at 11th Street, East Village. Running time: 89 minutes.
NYT Critic’s Pick
StarsRob Stewart, Paul Watson
Running Time1h 29m
- Movie data powered by IMDb.com
Last updated: Nov 2, 2017
A search is underway for a Canadian filmmaker and shark conservationist who vanished Tuesday during a dive off the Florida Keys.
Rob Stewart, 37, who directed and produced the award-winning documentary “Sharkwater,” was last seen near Alligator Reef off Lower Matecumbe Key around 5 p.m., the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement.
The Toronto resident was using closed-circulation rebreathing equipment while exploring a shipwreck with a small team, his friend Paul Watson wrote on Facebook.
This rebreathing system eliminates bubbles by removing carbon dioxide from recirculated air, making a diver less likely to scare off fish. However, the equipment can carry more risks than conventional scuba tanks, the Miami Herald reported.
Speaking to CTV News on Thursday, Stewart’s sister said that after surfacing from their third expedition of the day, one team member passed out. During the rescue, the boat “lost sight” of her brother, she said.
Stewart, who had been working on a sequel to his film, likely also passed out before floating away, Watson wrote.
“When last seen Rob was wearing a drysuit and a rebreather apparatus,” Watson added. “Hopefully the drysuit will keep him afloat but the fear is that he sank near where he was last seen. Divers with deep water experience are participating in the search.”
Stewart’s father, Brian, confirmed details of his son’s disappearance to Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, noting that Rob is a “very, very experienced diver” who has dedicated his life to conservation efforts.
“His mission in life is to save the world’s oceans from the devastation being wreaked upon them,” his father said.
Stewart’s friends and family have asked the public to help with the search. A GoFundMe page to help cover the costs has been set up. As of Thursday it had raised more than $115,000.
“All excess funds not used will be donated to www.finfree.org to help address the global slaughter of sharks,” the page reads.