WHEN HE SET OUT five years ago to make a documentary about sharks, wildlife photographer Rob Stewart was aiming for a "pretty" underwater filmone that portrayed sharks as elegant and amazing creatures worth protecting, not bloodthirsty monsters. Indeed, sharks turned out to be the least of Stewart's worries. MARIO QUADRACCI talked to the 27-year-old Canadian about Sharkwater, screening at film fests across the U.S. this summer.
OUTSIDE: From the start, when you hitched a ride on Ocean Warrior with conservationist Paul Watson, this was quite an adventure.
STEWART: When we encountered shark poachers off the coast of Guatemala, Ocean Warrior used water cannons, trying to flood the boat's engine. After a half-day battle, the boats collided. We ended up in Costa Rica, facing seven counts of attempted murder.
And you filmed all of this?
I filmed for the record, so we didn't get stuck in jail for life. Then we stumbled on evidence linking the Taiwanese mafia to the shark-finning industrypoachers cut off a shark's fins, sold for shark-fin soup, and throw the fish back in the sea to die.
Which led to death threats …
We fled by boat, while Costa Rica's coast guard fired machine guns in the air. Then I got dengue fever, tuberculosis, and West Nile virus all at the same time.
That's a lot to go through for a film.
But the message is important. With 73 million sharks killed each year for their fins, we're in real danger of losing them.
Sharkwater shows us sharks as the prey, not the predators.
More Americans are killed by falling vending machines each year than by sharks. But every shark attack is covered by the media, and films like Jaws and Open Water play on people's fears. Very rarely are sharks shown in a realistic light.