Published Oct 22, 2018When filmmaker Rob Stewart died in a tragic diving incident in 2017 while filming a sequel to Sharkwater, his friends and family knew they needed to finish the project.
A followup to Stewart's 2006 Sharkwater documentary, Sharkwater Extinction balances being a classic shark documentary with paying tribute to Stewart's work and legacy.
"We wanted to stay true to his vision and the film that he wanted to create. But without him there, that's impossible." Stewart's close friend Brock Cahill tells Exclaim! "When the plot takes a massive twist, like this one did, finding a way to put that into the story without completely losing sight of the other story is extremely challenging."
Sharkwater Extinction highlights the impact of the first Sharkwater film, with victories such as shark finning being banned in over 90 countries. It also calls attention to challenges that have emerged since then, such as new markets being created for shark products, and urges viewers to be diligent about ensuring shark products aren't showing up in their pet food, cosmetics or on their dinner plate.
In moments when Stewart speaks about his deep connection and love for sharks, the documentary honors his larger legacy of challenging a public perception of sharks as scary or villainous. "Everyday he'd walk out with a huge grin and just be grateful and excited that he got to work on what he was passionate about," says Cahill. That passion is also captured, perhaps most poignantly, in underwater footage of Stewart diving with sharks.
One moment that stands out for Cahill is when he and Stewart were diving in Kat Island with oceanic whitetips. Over the last 20 years, oceanic whitetip populations have decreased dramatically, and they are now classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Both Stewart and Cahill had never dived with them before.
"When we got in the water with them, time just stopped," he says. "All they wanted to do was buzz their way around us and come up and check us out, and their eyes are so descriptive of what's going on within them."
A fast, highly migratory species, oceanic whitetips are characterized by having huge pectoral fins, like wings on a fighter jet.
"The sun was setting, and there are oceanic whitetips on the surface cruising through and there are seabirds coming down from the sky. I remember watching it all happen and being like, 'this is real? This is magic.' The light was incredible, our interactions with the animals was off the charts and it was my best friend right next to me in the water."
While Stewart knew not everybody would share his passion for sharks, he hoped to encourage viewers to find their own ways to connect with nature and minimize human influence on the natural world.
"I hope they take away the example of a hero who lived a very beautiful and passionate life — that it will inspire young people and new generations of activists," says Cahill. "Because obviously his work is not done."
Sharkwater Extinction is in select theatres now.