Fall in love with sharks: review of blockbuster documentary Sharkwater: Extinction by Rob Stewart

Review: Sharkwater: Extinction

Dir: Rob Stewart

You won’t find a more instaworthy documentary than this. The scenery is absolutely stunning and the people are tanned and beautiful.

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The shots of azure oceans and huge, graceful fish swimming with the filmmakers make me want to learn to dive and go vegan. That’s right, you heard it here first. This film made me consider going vegan (briefly).

Rob Stewart is the director and the tragic hero of this story. As well as an exposé on the massive illegal shark fin industry and the political corruption behind it, this film is every bit a documentary about the passionate environmentalists who risk everything to educate the world about the imminent extinction of sharks.

Stewart and his colleagues travel across four continents and through some of the most dangerous ports in the world to track the illegal trade of shark fin. They fly drones over warehouses stocked full of shark flesh in Costa Rica and dive deep underwater to capture footage of the indiscriminate destruction wrought by driftnets off the coast of California.

The team confront politicians and ship owners. They are fearless in their pursuit of truth. Some scenes remind me of the segment in Fight Club where they break into a cosmetic surgery clinic. It has the same high energy and fatalism. The sound-track is equally pumping.

Stewart has form in filmmaking. His previous documentaries, Sharkwater and Revolution, sit at number 1 and number 3 in the top-rated documentaries out of Canada in the last 15 years. His belief is that it’s better to use a camera than a weapon to create social change.

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Early in the film Stewart says, “The most important thing for me when filming sharks is to try to understand what life is like for them and what makes them special. Because my goal is to make people fall in love with sharks.” Stewart clearly loves sharks and the ocean. He is at his charismatic best when he is diving and waxing lyrical about the world he’s introducing us to. Since seeing Sharkwater: Extinction I have thought differently about these enigmatic creatures. I’ve started to question the received wisdom that sharks are inherently dangerous.

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Of course, every good documentary needs it’s facts and figures to back up its thesis. Here are a few facts put forward by Sharkwater: Extinction.

  • Sharks have been here for 400 million years.

  • They’ve lived through 5 major extinctions that saw off most other life on the planet.

  • The shark population has dropped 90% in 30 years.

How does that make you feel? Does it make you angry, despondent, cynical? You’ll go through all those emotions while you watch this film. Stewart makes a strong case that overfishing of sharks has a potentially devastating effect on the whole ocean ecosystem, an ecosystem which currently generates about 60% of the world’s oxygen.

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While the documentary is beautifully photographed and mounts a compelling argument, it’s not a conventional environmental documentary. The narrative contains a significant twist that takes the audience in another direction altogether. This fractured vision doesn’t diminish the film at all. In fact, it’s a credit to the filmmakers that the finished documentary is so strong. I know I’m being vague but you really need to see the film to get the full effect.

Sharkwater: Extinction is a blockbuster documentary that is urgent and important and, above all, a pleasure to watch.


Sharkwater: Extinction is screening at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. For a whole trove of information about the film visit www.sharkwater.com

For screening info and tickets go to www.mdff.org.au