By: Jessica Goddard
An engrossing call-to-action documentary by the late Rob Stewart, Sharkwater: Extinction is a brave journalistic exploration further into the destructive shark fin trade, following up 2006’s acclaimed Sharkwater.
Toronto-born Stewart drowned early last year as a result of a diving equipment accident, leaving the documentary technically incomplete. So the film ends abruptly – totally understandable under the circumstances – but still drives its message home and exposes the barely-legal shark finning industry and the networks of importing mafias around the world.
The team goes to dangerous lengths to film seaports, warehouses, cargo ships and more; encountering resistance from corrupt bureaucracies and participants in the industry who are hostile to journalists. It’s clear Stewart loves the animals, but his concerns extend out to human interests as well – it turns out shark meat is inconspicuously labelled in all kinds of common products being bought by unsuspecting consumers every day.
The arguments for continuing action to end the shark fin trade are compelling and persuasive; but the premise is also just sincerely interesting. Even outside of the environmental activism, Sharkwater: Extinction offers unique exposure to a billion dollar industry that most people wouldn’t know exists otherwise. And of course, in his quest to change viewers’ attitudes toward sharks, Stewart and his films undoubtedly succeed. Sharks are portrayed as docile and timid around humans, with distinguishable personalities and expressive eyes.
Sharkwater: Extinction is shocking, inspiring, and frustrating (in a necessary way). It sprinkles foreshadowing of Stewart’s death throughout and can’t help but end with an emotional tribute to its visionary, but for the most part the documentary stays on task and works as a thorough, enlightening activist film.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod