It is said that those who want to lead should not be allowed to; one might also say that those who want to make documentaries should be similarly prohibited. Rob Stewart, repeatedly self-proclaimed shark enthusiast, has made himself the rather uninteresting protagonist of a film that is half conspiracy adventure, half nature documentary, but succeeds at being neither.
The film opens with a shot of Stewart walking along a beach, and one wonders about the amount of effort that was put into securing the top spot in the order of appearance credits. The voice over that accompanies this is immediately unconvincing and grating, and the realisation that it is going to continue for the rest of the film is not a happy one. Though the tanned, handsome, hip, and conscientious Stewart may be the best populist weapon for his message, it is hard to believe that any sceptical demographic is going to be won over by him.
This is a shame, because the film’s intentions are good. Sharks, Stewart explains, are not the dangerous predators that they are made out to be. Their teeth are simply not designed to tear flesh, meaning that they are incapable of eating prey larger than them, such as humans, and will not waste energy on such folly. Furthermore, at the hands of both avid shark haters and profiteering fin fisherman, they have become prey.
Shark fin soup is a status symbol in many eastern cultures, and though the fin is completely flavourless, it is enough sought after that only drug trading is more profitable than dealing in fins. A title at the end of the film points out that during the 85 minute run time over 15,000 sharks have been killed. As many as 73 million sharks are killed each year. The trade in shark fins and the corruption that surrounds it – also explored in the more narrative based second act of the film – have resulted in a 97% decline in shark population and could likely lead to their extinction.
The question then, is what Sharkwater hopes to achieve. As a documentary it is filled with far too many hyperbolic statements to convince the sceptical, and at times deteriorates to brawling testimonies from shark lovers and haters which seem equally impassioned and unsubstantiated. As an expose it covers some exciting ground, but merely scratches the surface of the issues involved. However the plight of sharks is a hitherto largely unpublicized one, and with its beautiful underwater cinematography the film likely succeeds in raising sympathy among the apathetic.
Sometimes exciting, frequently beautiful, Sharkwater is a stylish piece of propaganda for sharks. However, its limited factual cohesiveness, and its protagonist who ought to take some shirt wearing lessons from David Attenborough, keep it from truly intriguing investigation, and mean that there will be no illegal shark hunters in the audience feeling guilty over their popcorn.