Rob Stewart: filmmaker, oceanic crusader (4 Comments)

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WED JUN 8, 2011_PEOPLE

Days before a proposal to ban shark fin is tabled at City Hall, we visited our city’s No. 1 shark-lover in his Little Italy backyard to chat about his new film project, the prospect of cannibalism and why driving a Prius doesn’t mean dick in the grand scheme of enviro-woes.

BY: COURTNEY SHEA

How psyched are you about city council’s move to ban shark fin in Toronto?

I’m super excited. This is my home, Sharkwater [Stewart’s 2006 film] debuted at TIFF and it just feels like a great opportunity for Toronto to take the lead on an important issue. That said, I’m anticipating some resistance. There are a lot of Asian restaurants where shark-fin soup is still a staple.

Is there a plan to bring them on-side?

We’re in the process of trying to organize screenings of Sharkwater for Asian community leaders. We’re trying to emphasize that, ultimately, this is a conservation issue, not a cultural one. City Councillor Mike Layton contacted us to ask whether the movie would be available in Cantonese, so we’re looking into that. There’s a lot of momentum right now, and countries all over the world are getting on board. An international conservation group got Yao Ming, the basketball star, to make a “Say No to Shark Fin” commercial. He’s the biggest celeb in the world.

It must be pretty surreal to see your movie having such a huge effect.

It’s definitely gratifying. Making Sharkwater nearly killed me, and I mean that literally—I caught flesh-eating disease on a fishing boat. It also cost every dollar and relationship I ever had. The year after the movie came out, shark poaching hit an all-time high, which was totally demoralizing. Now, to see that the message is finally getting across is really amazing. But it’s also like, finally!

What alerted you to the cause?

Almost 10 years ago, I got my first assignment as a wildlife photographer shooting hammerheads off the Galapagos Islands. I expected to find these creatures in all their majesty, but instead I found hundreds of de-finned sharks bleeding to death on a fishing line. When I got home, I wanted to do something. My dad told me about this new form of HD video camera that George Lucas was shooting the Star Wars prequels with at the time. I borrowed a bunch of money, got a plane ticket and came back with the beginnings of Sharkwater.

Have you always liked scary sea creatures?

My parents got me a goldfish before I turned one. When I got a bit older, I would save up money to go to the pet store and buy a bigger predator every time. Sharks were the coolest and most badass, but I was also totally terrified of them. Then when I was nine, I was swimming in Florida during a vacation and had my first encounter with a shark. Before I could freak out, the shark swam away. I realized, wait, they’re scared of me.

Oprah would call that an “a-ha moment.”

Yeah, exactly. People really have the wrong idea. Humans go swimming more than seven billion times a year and only five people a year are killed by sharks. You wouldn’t get a ratio that low with any other species. More people are crushed by pop machines.

Jaws obviously did a lot of damage.

Tons. For years, Jaws was a de facto shark documentary. Reversing that stereotype has been one of the best things about Sharkwater.

Aren’t you the person who convinced Galen Weston Jr. to take shark fin off the shelves in Loblaws stores?

He saw my movie and became interested in the shark-fin cause. Loblaws is doing some amazing stuff in terms of sustainable seafood. I don’t want to take credit, though.

What’s next on the do-gooding agenda?

I’m finishing up my next documentary, Revolution, which examines how humans are going to survive the next century. There’s not much point in saving sharks if the entire ocean ecosystem is going to be dead by 2048, which is what the UN is predicting. No fish, no coral.

That’s a lot to process.

People need to realize the scope of the problem and that recycling and driving a Prius isn’t going to mean dick if we’re eating each other. The Canadian government is one of the worst if not the worst in terms of environmental abuses. I truly believe that if the average citizen knew what was going on, they would hold our government accountable. That’s sort of the point of the movie.

So basically, when you know better, you do better. That’s another Oprah-ism. I’m sorry—someone’s got to keep her spirit alive.

Wait, what happened to Oprah?

She’s off the air. Where have you been, shark boy?

Busy. We’re trying to get Revolution into TIFF. We’re almost done with the filming, but there’s still a lot of editing to do.

I’m guessing you don’t have time for dating.

I try, but I’m unreliable. I have so much going on and I’m always travelling.

Would “must love sharks” be part of your personal ad?

No, I’m pretty sure anyone who meets a shark with me is going to love them after that.

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LIGHTNING ROUND

Atlantic or Pacific?
Pacific.

Favourite movie?
The Power of One.

Childhood pet?
An iguana named Iggy.

Celebrity crush?
Milla Jovovich.

Coffee or Red Bull?
Coffee.

Jacques Cousteau or David Suzuki?
Cousteau.

Favourite neighbourhood haunt?
Kalendar on College.

Favourite beach?
Tiwi in Kenya.

Breaststroke or butterfly?
Butterfly.

4 Responses to “Rob Stewart: filmmaker, oceanic crusader”

    1. MC June 10th, 2011 at 10:07 am

      Excited for your new film!

    1. vanessa June 11th, 2011 at 4:37 am

      HI Rob
      Amazing to hear you are making another eye opening movie:)
      i am so disappointed that i wont be-able to make it to the THE ROM
      when are you coming to Israel so your fans here can shake your hand give you a kiss and say good job:)

      Vanessa:)

    1. Jay June 16th, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      Great interview. I’m glad to see people are finally opening their eyes. Sharkwater is an amazing film and it completely shocked me and opened my eyes. Not only for Sharks but for the environment in general. Can’t wait for Revolution!

    1. Lorraine August 13th, 2011 at 12:23 am

      Hi Rob,

      My mom works at The Rom as a Curator for ichthyology. She’s been making exhibits for example the most recent named “Water” She has also designed the Shad Gallery and if I recall, I think i saw clips of the movie Shark Water in the Shad Gallery.
      I was wondering maybe if it would be possible to use this connection to help make a change towards the shark fin soup. The Rom has a very wide variety of multicultural customers or admirers and could maybe make it’s way around the world. I just want to help make a difference!

      I think everything you do is amazing! We need more people like you in this world!

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