At a time when climate change and species extinction are receiving global attention, it is important that we citizens be aware of conservation efforts being made in this direction. One such laudable initiative comes from the team behind the documentary Sharkwater (2006), which dealt with the decline of sharks in our oceans.
Now, the man behind Sharkwater, Rob Stewart, is back promoting his next film, Revolution. Here, we chat with Rob about Sharkwater, Revolution, and his views on conservation in general.
Q: Sharkwater was a pathbreaking film – what was your personal motivation while making it? What kept you going through all those grueling hours?
A: I had found out sharks were being decimated, nobody knew, and if they did, they didn’t care because they feared sharks. I hoped that if I could show sharks to the public through my eyes, they would want to fight for the sharks’ protection. Through attempted murder, machine guns, almost losing my leg, losing my girlfriend and being in massive debt – it was the possibility, the good the film could do, that kept me going. It was my first real shot at trying to make a difference.
Q: You’ve faced some incredible challenges during the shooting of Sharkwater, including a West Nile Virus infection. Looking back, do you think it was all worth it? What was the most difficult part of the experience?
A: It was definitely worth it. Sharkwater taught me that behind every negative is a positive if you can wait for it. Getting turned down by every broadcaster became a good thing, because we made a feature film instead – something with a larger life and longer reach. Getting sick became a beautiful part of the film, failing taught me to grow and get better and strengthened my resolve… The most difficult part was undoubtedly growing into the person that was necessary to tell that story. Having confidence in my abilities and going with my gut…. That and financing!
Q: How does it feel to know that Sharkwater had the largest opening weekend of any Canadian documentary? Did you have any idea that the documentary would turn out to be so big when you started work on it?
A: I had huge ambitions for the film, despite having no film experience and never having shot a video camera…. But I was hoping to make a pretty underwater film without the human drama, so the change in course took some time for me to figure out. Shoot for the stars!
A: Revolution is its own film, but born out of the Sharkwater experience. Sharkwater taught me something profoundly beautiful – that humanity will do the right thing once they know what’s going on. After Sharkwater came out, government policy changed around the world, and people fought for sharks. But it was clear to me that it wasn’t just sharks that were in jeopardy but all of our life support system, and therefore us… So I hoped to use the same blueprint to educate the masses in hopes that they would act to save our future.
Q: “Revolution brings the biggest issue on the planet to audiences in a positive and engaging way.” Could you expand on this tagline a little bit? What big issues is Revolution addressing?
A: Ocean acidification is the biggest issue on the planet, but most of the public is unaware or has never heard of it! The carbon we put into the atmosphere dissolves into the oceans, making the oceans more acidic and dissolving the shells and skeletons of sea life…. Including fish, reefs, and phytoplankton, responsible for at least half of the oxygen in the air we breathe. Acidification is responsible for at least 4 of the 5 mass extinctions in the past. It is far more pressing and potentially more devastating than climate change. Revolution brings this to the public in a story of life that triumphs in the face of acidification, and some that could be wiped out soon should we not change our ways.
Q: Naturalists and scientists from all around the world are trying to protect species using various methods, including gene banks and habitat conservation. How do you think the media can help in such efforts?
A: The media has the power to educate, inspire, empower and direct the public. It is one of the most powerful forces on our planet. The media can save our world by inspiring people to behave differently, support different corporations, governments and actions.
Q: How open do you think these areas are to public engagement? Are there instances where citizens’ involvement could cause more harm than good? In other words, how do these efforts need to be coordinated?
A: We started a non-profit called United Conservationists – to try and unite the conservation movement as a force for good. The biggest movement that’s ever existed should be winning the battle to save our world….. that said, the diversity of the movement is a huge advantage, and it is going to take many people rising to this challenge, inventing solutions and strategies, and becoming leaders and heroes.
Q: What are your thoughts on climate change and evolution deniers? Seeing that Revolution has the concept of evolution as a basic premise, how receptive do you think such audiences would be to the film?
A: You can skip over those arguments with ocean acidification and the true root of the problem. Climate change is not the real problem – it is like the cough when you’re sick. You don’t heal an illness by sewing your mouth shut to stop the cough, you treat the illness. There are too many people consuming too much, and this has destroyed our life support system, and will mean a big problem for us this century unless we change our ways. This is not debatable.
Q: As a biologist, do you think that certain animals/species are more critical than others? Does this mean that we should be concentrating our conservation efforts on those?
A: Yes, absolutely. Often their importance is in relationship to how long they’ve been on the planet. Some ecosystems we depend on more than others. The oceans for example – phytoplankton, sharks.
Q: What ideas do you have for your future projects? Do you feel like you have plenty left to explore in this genre, or are there other themes that interest you currently?
A: There is so much to explore! We have 5 films and TV projects lined up next. I’m excited to explore other genres and delve into TV so we can get the message out more prolifically.
For more information about Revolution, visit http://therevolutionmovie.com/.
To find out more about United Conservationists, visit http://www.unitedconservationists.org/ and their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/unitedconservationists.