SHARKWATER (Rob Stewart). 85 minutes. Opens Friday (March 23). For venues and times, see Movies, page 89. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Toronto-born photographer-turned-filmmaker Rob Stewart aims to make a love letter to sharks. He starts out wanting to demonstrate that they're not the bloodthirsty monsters of pop fiction. But that project gets back-burnered when he links up with Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and gets involved in an attempt to arrest shark poachers off Guatemala, a situation that leads to a sea battle, attempted murder charges and a chase.
This gives us a good ground-level look at what's called shark-finning, the poaching controlled by the Taiwanese Mafia that's responsible for wiping out 90 per cent of the world's shark population to fill an exploding demand for shark fin soup.
Stewart, a veteran wildlife and underwater photographer, gets lovely, lyrical visuals with high-def video. He's a little shakier at handling the human story, but only a little. The events and personalities are clear. Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace, comes across as an amazing man, an eco-warrior who seems perfectly sane but prepared to face anything, unfazed, in pursuit of conservation.
Stewart himself is part of the story. His active commitment to sharks and conservation is as evident as the joy he takes in the creatures and his work. All of this means Sharkwater has earned every bit of its strong conservationist message and its string of festival awards.