Rob’s Latest Interview (3 Comments)

QUESTIONS FOR ROB STEWART

There are plenty of cute cuddly animals for a kid to be fascinated with. What was it about sharks that hooked you?

My parents got me a pet goldfish when I was about 1, and from that point on I was hooked. The oceans were the lost world, the last unknown realm full of creatures, monsters, and fantastic adventure.
I read every book on the ocean, fish, reptiles, and dinosaurs. As a kid, sharks were the last dragons and dinosaurs we have on the planet. People knew so little about them and most were afraid of them. I met my first shark when I was nine, and instead of biting me, the shark swam away in fear. This made me wonder why it didn’t’ want to hurt me, furthering my fascination.
As I studied sharks I learned the significance and difference of sharks on earth. They have survived for over 400 million years, predating the dinosaurs by 150 million years. Sharks have seen life on earth rebuild 5 times. They have two more senses than people. As a group of species and as an influence on the planet, sharks are absolutely unique.

I’ve often thought the life aquatic resembled an underwater ballet, a kind of symphony of sorts. The film really captures that. It’s beautifully shot, but you’d reportedly never handled a video camera before. How difficult was it to transition from still photography to video for you?

Funnily enough, this was the only thing I was sure that I could do – come back with pretty pictures! I’ve always been such a huge fan of beauty, and using visual mediums such as photography and motion pictures allows me to find unique ways of portraying something that is already so outstanding… A way of portraying the subject that shows their majesty, fragility, personality, and grace. One that hopefully sucks the viewer into a world where they’re compassion forces them to care.

You went though a lot during filming. Attempted murder charges, men with guns, flesh-eating disease… Was there ever a time when you thought, screw the sharks, I’ve got the save myself?

The creation of Sharkwater was a series of worst case scenarios. The lowest low was when I was hospitalized for flesh eating disease. They were talking about removing my leg, and we were 3 weeks into shooting a shark film and had no shark footage. Everyone told me I should return home for proper medical care. My girlfriend and parents were upset, my crew was freaking… I had to turn into captain positive to keep people from flying me home… If I went home, the film would have never been finished because it was such a colossal failure that it would have been shelved. The expensive cameras would have been returned to the rental houses, and once freed from the hospital, I wouldn’t have been able to return to South America to film because of the huge financial hole I’d dug myself into. This was my one shot at making a difference and my first foray into filmmaking. I couldn’t accept that my effort to make a difference and to get into filmmaking was a failure.
The film also had a huge potential to do good…. To change the way people view sharks so they would fight for their protection, ultimately saving the oceans and humanity from destroying the ecosystems upon which they depend. Knowing this, there was no way I could give up.

The media is famous for fear-mongering, and its treatment of sharks, historically, has been no different. With that in mind, do you think this documentary would have been as compelling, had it just been pretty pictures of sharks, and no human drama on the surface?

No. Everything going catastrophically wrong during shooting turned out to be a beautiful thing, as all the events became part of the movie. They gave Sharkwater what documentaries so often lack – a story, and a personal narrative. Doc’s often feel like taking medicine… you know you’re in for an ordeal that’s not necessarily pleasant… Its easier for people to come onto the crazy journey of the long shot – the 22 year old kid who’s trying to make a shark film – and come out the other side armed with the info necessary for the world to change.

What’s a worst-case scenario if sharks get fished-out?
Sharks sit atop oceanic food chains, controlling the populations of animals below them as they have for over 400 million years. Life on earth depends on life in the sea which sits below sharks in the food chain. Phytoplankton (tiny plants) are the greatest consumer of carbon dioxide (global warming gas) on earth, turning it into oxygen, providing us with 70% of the oxygen we breathe. Removing sharks is cutting off the head of the most important ecosystem for our own survival. The biggest issue in any global warming debate is life in the oceans that allows life on land to exist, yet it’s never spoken of… all we hear about is industry and carbon footprints.
We know relatively little about the removal of large predators from ecosystems as we’ve traditionally eaten animals at lower levels – the herbivores.
One example is the sea otter, which was hunted virtually to extinction off the west coast of North America for the fur trade. The otter’s food population, sea urchins, exploded in numbers. Those urchins ate all the Pacific kelp (huge seaweed that form an underwater forest). Without the kelp, the Pacific herring (sardine like fish) had no breeding grounds, and without the herring, there were no sharks, sea lions, salmon, tuna, dolphins or whales. The ecosystems collapsed all from removing the sea otter, which as a species has only been shaping ecosystems for 7 million years.
What we’re doing with sharks is removing an animal that has been sitting atop of oceanic ecosystems for over 400 million years, and the ecosystems that will be affected include our own – the very air that we breathe.
So, the worst-case scenario – we cause catastrophic consequences through ecosystems that result in a great number of species’ extinction, including our own.

How prevalent is shark-finning in the world? Who are the worst offenders?

Shark finning is happening in every country with a coastline. Finning is happening even in modern western nations only with more finesse than in the developing world. The demand comes from Asia, mainly China and Hong Kong. A couple huge shark finning nations are Spain and Indonesia.

My girlfriend and I immediately joined savethesharks.com when the film finished. Like a lot of people, we had no idea this stuff was happening. What were your goals for the film when you started out making it?

When I started out making Sharkwater, it was supposed to be a beautiful underwater movie about sharks, giving people the reality: the anti-jaws, bringing people closer to sharks than ever before.
I figured if I could make a film that gave people a new view of sharks, counter to Jaws, then perhaps they’d want to fight for their protection as they would for pandas, elephants and bears. I thought I’d be in it for 3-6 months, and get to choose at the end whether I’d like to be a photographer or a filmmaker…..
As you see in the film, everything changed when we started filming ourselves to keep ourselves out of prison, and the movie changed dramatically….
It evolved into a much larger movie about that survival of humans.
Ironically, the most difficult part of making Sharkwater was convincing people to believe in me, and the project. I started Sharkwater when I was 22 years old. I had no film experience, I’d never shot a video camera, and I had no film allies. I was a total long shot. When I came back from the initial shoot where I tried to make a beautiful underwater shark film, I had no underwater footage, but I had corruption, espionage, mafia chases, machine guns, and hospitalizations. I was also $300,000 in the hole. I went to every relevant film festival to pitch the film and gain support to finish Sharkwater. I also had Dengue Fever, West Nile Virus, and Tuberculosis. After a year of this painful process, I was turned down by every broadcaster and distributor. I actually gave up on Sharkwater, and went to shoot a starfish movie for a friend of mine in Australia. Only after I’d been shooting in Australia for a year, having time to heal, reflect and shoot more footage did I realize that I had the missing pieces to Sharkwater. These supposed failures turned Sharkwater into something much greater than it would have been if I succeeded in getting the film finished years earlier.

It’s been a while since the film first had its theatrical release. Have you seen any positive changes towards sharks since then?

5 days into the film’s release in Costa Rica, all international landings of sharks were banned. 6 conservation groups have been created by people moved by seeing sharkwater. (ex – sharksavers.org). A 15 year old girl threw a fundraiser for sharks raising 10K for shark conservation. Great things are happening, but the biggest issue facing the oceans today is awareness, and we need more people talking about the issue and everything will change.

You’ve done hundreds of interviews around the world since releasing this film. How has your life changed?

Well, instead of traveling most of the year to film in remote areas, I’m traveling most of the year promoting the film! I’m on a bit of a crazy tour through Europe, full of interviews, lectures, festivals and parties… Sometimes I talk 8 hours a day… It’s so much fun, but all a bit exhausting… We’re a very small crew, all wearing multiple hats, so I’m very much a reluctant business man these days as well… I’m 6 years into this film now, having never really left the near vertical learning curve… only now I’m learning the business side, and when to put myself and my happiness first… I am really excited to divorce my blackberry and return to the third world… and to film making!!!

What’s next for you? More films?

The most important thing is making conservation cool and accessible to everyone. There’s nothing cooler than saving species instead of destroying them… than perpetuating human life instead of limiting it. Conservation is cool, we’re just trying to repackage it so everyone is on board.
Sharkwater made me into a filmmaker, and through the process I made the most important film I knew of. Knowing the power of film to make a difference, I have to make the most important film I know of now, so I’m making a film about how humans are going to survive the next 100 years.
Based on our resource usage, it’s estimated that we would need 6 planet earths to sustain life. We waste 54 billion pounds of fish each year while 8 million people die of starvation. 90% of all large predators in the oceans are gone, and in the next 40 years every fishery will have collapsed, and a few billion people will be underwater.
Our relationship with the natural world is not working. We as a species haven’t realized that life depends on life. Conservation is the most important issue humanity has ever faced, as it is the preservation of human life on earth. Ecosystems and species will be fine as they have been for millions of years.
Sharks survived 5 major extinctions, watching life on earth rebuild 5 times. Sharks will be fine, it’s whether humans will survive, and how many future generations will live in lack, starvation and crisis because of our failure to wake up in time.
This next film points to cultural evolutions of the past: the end of slavery, women gaining rights, etc – to show and hopefully inspire the kind of revolution necessary for ensure humans survive on earth.

3 Responses to “Rob’s Latest Interview”

    1. Camille Protti April 26th, 2008 at 10:55 pm

      I watched Shark Water just last night. IT sickened me that people could hurt any living creature like that. Like you I have been interested in Sharks since I was very young. They may not be cute and cuddly but I think they are absolutely beautiful. I have been doing all I can to help promote shark conservation. I always let a store know my feelings when I see any kind of shark in their seafood area. And since I have done that I have yet seen anymore shark in that particular store. My kids are now finally joining me in this since watching your movie. I’m really glad that Costa Rica is no longer after you – but my question is: Why do they still want to incarcerate your friend Paul? In my opinion he did nothing wrong. Oh Costa Rica doesn’t have a coast guard – none. The rubber boat going ofter you was more then likely some of the police. They don;t have any military at all – but their police sure make up for it. I lived in Costa Rica for almost 2 yrs. and I never knew any of what was going on. So glad you opened it all up.

    1. Lauren Martin September 15th, 2008 at 12:10 am

      Humans always fear what they do not understand, I think everyone who is scared of sharks should watch Shark Water because once you learn more about the thing you fear it becomes silly and unrealistic. The only thing to fear is fear itself. And what some people are doing to our great kings of the ocean is horrible and inhumane and they should be stopped and prosecuted. And by doing so the shark population becomes extinct and the oceans ecosystem gets thrown off. Being upset about what happens to the sharks and doing something to try and help are to very different things. and nothing changes if nothing changes. anyone who is upset by this should do something to try and make a difference.
      And i applaud your effort to try and help Rob Stewart and i truly hope one day we can stop shark finning once and for all. Good luck!

    1. Sofia June 8th, 2009 at 4:48 pm

      The Red Cap has a pearly white body and distinctive bright red cap over its head. One of the most popular goldfish in the world, Orandas have the distinct growth on their heads that look somewhat like a raspberry.

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