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The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) reels out over 200 films from around the globe. Filmmakers and celebrities attend many of the screenings and events during the festival. Parties and gatherings at area "hot spots", on board yachts, and on the beach will provide audiences an opportunity to hob knob with film talent and other movie buffs.
Interview With Rob Stewart
Sunday, November 12-----When nature photographer and master diver Rob Stewart began his project to document the beauty of sharks in their natural underwater environment, little did he realize that his innate fascination would bring him into conflict with governments and organized crime who profit from the mass killing of these endangered animals. With shark fins prized as a delicacy and shark cartilage falsely promoted as a cure-all for disease and impotence, the illegal killing of sharks around the world has created an ecological disaster of frightening proportions.
Online Festival Dailies Editor Sandy Mandelberger sat down with the Toronto-born Rob Stewart, the director of SHARKWATER, to discuss the behind-the-scenes story of one of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival’s most beautiful and most harrowing films. The film screens today at 7:30pm at the Parker Playhouse.
Sandy Mandelberger (SM): What was the inspiration to make this film?
Rob Stewart (RS): When I started, I had a successful career as an underwater photographer, and my original idea was to make a film that looked at the shark in its natural environment, but make it as a kind of “pretty pictures” nature documentary, a kind of underwater WINGED MIGRATION. When going to the waters off the Galapagos Islands, I discovered miles and miles of lines which were meant to trap these sharks and other creatures. I spent my time cutting the lines and freeing the sharks. This opened my eyes to the fact that even in this area that is supposed to be environmentally free, there was a mania for capturing sharks. I started publishing photographs and publishing articles, but that didn’t have the impact that was needed. So, I realized that to publicize this, I needed to choose a stronger medium than photography, so I began to shoot on high definition video, without any training, as a way of making a stronger point about what I was seeing happening to this endangered species.
SM: In the film, you recount how your efforts to stop this shark poaching nearly cost you your freedom and your life. Tell us more about that.
RS: Well, I hooked up with some other conservationists with The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a pro-active animal rights organization, and we sailed off the coast of Guatemala, where we encountered a Costa Rican ship that was doing illegal shark finning. We attempted to stop them by spraying water on the boat and doing other things to stop them. The two boats even ended up colliding. Well, then the Coast Guard intervened and eventually we were put under house arrest and charged with attempted murder. And the fishing boat was allowed to go scott free. We soon discovered that there was a connection to the Taiwanese mafia in Costa Rica, who secretly operated ports where these ships were allowed to dock and do their illegal poaching. At that point, we were literally chased across the country by these gangsters and nearly did not get out with our lives intact. All of this is captured in the film.
SM: So, explain why these sharks are being hunted in the first place.
RS: The shark fins are an Asian food delicacy and a status symbol. In the past, only the elite could afford it, but now that there are more people who want to show that they have made it financially, there is a larger market for these shark fins. Also, there have been false claims, even in this country, about the therapeutic properties of shark cartilage, to fight cancer and other diseases. There is no scientific evidence of this, and it is based on myths that somehow the power of the shark can be transferred to a human being by eating its fins.
SM: I understand that the film will be in theaters in Canada in April and that you are working on deals to bring it to the US and other countries. What are your hopes for spreading the message to audiences around the world.
RS: Sharks have a reputation as predators but they are, in fact, not dangerous creatures. There are only 5 deaths a year due to shark attacks, much fewer than people killed by crocodiles, elephants or other animals. And yet, thens of millions of sharks are slaughtered every year and there are very few protections. I would like to see environmental protections enacted which will protect the shark populations in their native habitats and make it illegal to destroy them. If this doesn’t happen soon, then a whole species that is vital to the ecological balance of the seas will be lost forever. Since we depend on the oxygen that is generated from the seas, our tampering with the ecological balance is also dangerous for us. I also want to inspire young people like myself to get involved and become aware and to see being for ecology and for preserving this species is cool….to make saving the planet a cool thing.
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