Sharkwater Ex­tinc­tion lost its di­rec­tor, but his legacy lives on.


Sharkwater Ex­tinc­tion

Opens Fri­day, Oc­to­ber 19


in Sharkwater Ex­tinc­tion is a scene that has noth­ing to do with sharks, one you’ve known is com­ing the whole movie, that gives the ti­tle a som­bre dou­ble mean­ing: The death of its di­rec­tor and star, Rob Ste­wart. Ste­wart’s de­but doc­u­men­tary, 2006’s

Sharkwater, was in­stru­men­tal in the ban­ning of shark finning—the prac­tice of catch­ing sharks, cut­ting their fins off for soup, and dis­card­ing the bod­ies—in 90 coun­tries. While film­ing its se­quel in 2016, Ste­wart drowned in the Flor­ida Keys. (The ac­ci­dent is ex­plored in de­tail in a sep­a­rate, un­re­lated doc­u­men­tary,

The Third Dive: The Death of Rob Ste­wart,

pre­mier­ing on CBC Oc­to­ber 26.) He’d com­pleted some of the movie—he acts as nar­ra­tor through the bulk—and the rest was put to­gether from 400 hours of footage, guided by Sturla Gun­nars­son.

“Rob­bie was very metic­u­lous in his process, writ­ing an arc of how he wanted to tell the story,” says Brock Cahill, a writer and diver on the film. “Most of it is from the time­frame that he was still with us.”

Cahill was also Ste­wart’s best friend. “It’s a mis­sion and it’s what we’re on,” he says qui­etly from Los An­ge­les, at the be­gin­ning of a long day of dis­cussing his friend’s pass­ing. He was Ste­wart’s yoga teacher to start, but they were close for the past decade. “I al­ready in­volved in the oceans,” says Cahill, founder of SeaChange Agency, a non-profit that im­proves oceanic ecosys­tems. “I’d taken lots of trips to get peo­ple in­volved, rec­og­niz­ing our place in the wa­ter. But Rob re­ally spurred it on.”

Sharkwater Ex­tinc­tion had its world pre­miere at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val—“A 10-minute stand­ing ova­tion with­out a dry eye in the house. I know he’d be very proud of that,” says Cahill—and a screen­ing hosted by Ste­wart’s par­ents dur­ing the At­lantic In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val. What Ste­wart re­veals through­out is that sharks are still be­ing un­fairly ma­ligned in the world and, worse, il­le­gally cap­tured and finned.“This story is so beau­ti­ful, is so ro­man­tic and heroic,” says Cahill, chok­ing up. “He be­lieved whole­heart­edly in his mis­sion and what he was do­ing and he gave ev­ery­thing he had. He made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice and the ul­ti­mate point.”

The film of­fers some solid science bits, in­clud­ing a sec­tion in which Ste­wart se­lects com­mon gro­cery store foods and has them tested to see how much shark is in them (more than you would guess, and you’d likely guess “none”). But this is not your av­er­age na­ture doc, with the crew hav­ing to fly drones over re­stricted ar­eas, sneak in and out of coun­tries, even duck­ing gun­fire.

“One of Rob’s ma­jor philoso­phies was he be­lieved strongly in the power of film and me­dia to voice some­thing to change the world,” says Cahill. “In a lot of our work we deal with a lot of un­savoury char­ac­ters—and I get mad, like ‘I’m gonna beat the fuckin’ shit out of this guy.’ Rob al­ways stayed cool. He’d say, ‘The cam­era is our best weapon in this revo­lu­tion, Brock. You gotta chill. Let’s go into this with a cam­era, not a shot­gun.’”


Ste­wart “made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice and the ul­ti­mate point.”

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