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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Underwater filmmaker Rob Stewart is revolutionizing the way people view the "media-fied" shark.

His award-winning documentary, "Sharkwater," which will be presented Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Reitz Union Auditorium, uncovers the world of shark poaching.

His goal with the shark-sympathetic movie is that the eerie "Jaws" anthem may no longer raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

"I'm trying to be the anti-'Jaws,'" Stewart said. "Soda pop machines kill more people than sharks a year, while 100 million sharks are killed by people a year."

Although he was born in Toronto, Stewart's passion for wildlife and underwater photography took him to various trips to Florida and the Caribbean.

"Since he was a kid, he's always loved the water and has always been enchanted by sharks," said David Garland, marketing director for "Sharkwater."

Garland, who helped market "Grease" and "The Empire Strikes Back," decided to represent "Sharkwater" because of its "solid and heartfelt" message, he said.

Stewart, who is now 27, was driven at the age of only 21 to start making the movie that was later awarded Best Documentary at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival and Canada's Top 10 at Toronto's International Film Festival, among other recognitions.

During the five years it took to film "Sharkwater," humans rapidly proved to play the villain's role.

The first year of filming, Stewart and conservationist Paul Watson were under "boat arrest" as Watson, the captain, was charged with seven counts of attempted murder after their ship collided with an illegal Costa Rican shark-fishing boat in Guatemala. This and other unexpected confrontations became an integral part of a documentary initially planned to be a Discovery Channel-like production.

"We ended up filming ourselves in prison," Stewart said.

The prominence of out-of-the-water conflict helped Stewart realize the gravity of illegal shark "finning" operations.

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"Finning" is when poachers cut a shark's fins off and throw the leftover body back to die a long, motionless death at the bottom of the ocean. This practice has grown due to increased consumption of the highly regarded shark-fin soup in China.

Stewart aims to change people's ideas of sharks, expose the "finning" world, and share facts on the animal's vital existence through the documentary and speeches in multiple museums and universities.

"Sharks set up the framework for life in the ocean," he said.

Stewart will speak about the making of "Sharkwater" and show footage Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Reitz Union Auditorium.

The presentation, which is open to the public, is sponsored by Student Upstart Films and the Reitz Union Board.

He'll also speak at 2 p.m. at the College of Journalism and Communications Documentary Institute.

"Sharkwater" opens in Florida theaters Sept. 28.

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