What was the most difficult part during your two years filming?
The most difficult part of the 5 years and 15 countries that it took to create 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 on TV a year earlier.
You’ve mentioned many times that your aim with this film was to “open the public’s eyes” to the needless killing of sharks. What kind of response have you received?
5 days into the film’s release in Costa Rica, all international landings of sharks were banned in the country. 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.
While the movie has been roundly praised, some critics claim your presence was a bit overbearing and took the focus off the sharks?
Most of that criticism was from the old festival cut of the film. The film in release hasn’t seen that criticism. Either way, it became the most award winning documentary of the year because it was different. It had a story, and it moved people. Most people really like that aspect of the film.
You were shot at, arrested, battled flesh-eating disease – did you at any point in the shooting of this movie consider giving up?
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.
Are you still persona non grata in Costa Rica?
No. The president invited me back for the Costa Rican Premier. They would arrest Paul Watson though.
There have been attacks recently on divers who participated in shark feeds. Because the media often glorifies these attacks, do you think shark feeds should continue?
I think it more appropriate to refer to this kind of incident as a shark bite (be careful not to pluralize here), as an attack implies a deliberate intention to do harm. The shark that bit Markus Groh was going for bait, bit a leg instead, and let go. No flesh was removed. It was an accident and a terrible tragedy, but shark feeds should absolutely continue.
This was the first death from any shark tourism activity in history. This kind of track record in any sport is usually considered terrific… People die all the time playing football, rugby, soccer, skydiving, etc.
Shark diving is also a vital tool in the preservation of sharks. Shark divers become shark advocates, as they see the reality, that these aren’t menacing predators of people. Shark diving has also saved sharks in many areas as they’ve been proven to be worth more money in the water in tourism dollars than they are dead. Shark populations have dropped more than 90% in the last 30 years, making it exceedingly difficult to find sharks without bringing food into the water.
What does the future hold for sharks?
Fundamental extinction of many to most of the species we know and love unless great changes are made immediately.
Do you have any plans for a follow-up?
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, 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 realised 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.