50 Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 24, Rob Stewart is the new Jacques Cousteau
Nine years ago, Rob Stewart, then a 22-year-old Toronto biologist, boarded a plane to Ecuador with his brand new underwater video camera. With no experience making movies, he spent the next five years documenting how sharks are hunted for their fins. He met poachers, pirates and police, and contracted dengue fever, tuberculosis, West Nile virus and flesh-eating disease. The result of his adventure was Sharkwater, a gripping documentary that provided some seriously good PR for a species that had never really recovered from the Jaws effect. The movie won dozens of awards—Canada’s Top 10 at TIFF and Best Documentary from the Directors Guild of Canada, to name two—and the young filmmaker’s passion proved contagious. After seeing Sharkwater, Galen Weston Jr. asked Stewart to dinner, and was persuaded to order his Loblaws stores to remove shark fin soup (an Asian delicacy) from the shelves. A Grade 3 class on the tiny fishing island of Saipan was so impressed by the movie that it successfully petitioned the government to endorse a bill that bans the shark fin trade.
Stewart’s next project, another underwater documentary, was inspired by a Q&A session following the Hong Kong premiere of Sharkwater, where one young audience member posed the question: “Why are you so worried about sharks if the entire ocean ecosystem is falling apart?” Stewart’s answer, Revolution—an in-depth look at the chain reaction that connects the oceanic ecosystem to the rest of the world’s environmental woes—will likely play at TIFF this September