Q&A: doc filmmaker Rob Stewart, of Sharkwater fame, on his plan to save the world
In Revolution, the globe-trotting, shirt-doffing filmmaker behind the save-the-fish documentary Sharkwater, turns his attention to a more sizable cause: planet earth
You made a modest little documentary called Sharkwater about the global shark-finning trade. It ended up earning $5 million and winning dozens of awards. How did that success change your life?
It was incredible. I got to travel around the world and go to a slew of massive film festivals. High-fives. Big parties. Richard Branson and Hayden Panettiere supported the cause, and Leo DiCaprio was a big fan. The film taught me how to be a director and enabled me to make more movies.
How did a kid from north Toronto become an eco–poster boy in the first place?
I was chubby and had a really bad stutter. My parents would take me on exotic vacations and I sort of found a connection with the amazing animals I’d see. Eventually, I became a wildlife photographer—and along the way lost the stutter, and the chubbiness. It was a dream job. When I learned about shark-finning practices, I knew I had to do something.
Your parents are co-CEOs of Tribute Entertainment Media Group—the company that makes those magazines you read in movie theatres. Have they continued to play a role in your career?
They were the executive producers and financiers for Sharkwater and my new film, Revolution. They put me in rooms with CEOs that a 22-year-old would otherwise never have gotten into.
Some 80 countries have banned shark finning since Sharkwater came out. You’ve also had success closer to home, with Loblaw
Galen Weston Jr.’s wife, Alexandra, saw the movie, and they asked me to dinner at the Spoke Club to talk about ocean conservation. Loblaw has committed to selling only sustainable seafood by the end of the year.
What’s Revolution about?
It’s about the evolution of life on earth. It follows me ripping around the world, getting in trouble, figuring out what’s happening on this planet, trying to get people to understand that we need to protect the earth.
Humanity is on the verge of either eliminating or saving itself. By 2050, we face a world with no fish, reefs or rainforests, and nine billion people without enough food. And we know that when humanity gets into trouble, people fight each other for resources.
So what are you suggesting? A one-child policy?
Fuck yeah. Having even one kid in Toronto has a huge environmental impact. But consumption is a problem, too. We have enough money, buildings, cars, toys and souvenirs. It should be illegal to turn the world into goods and commodities, which we eventually convert to garbage.
Saving the world is a sizable undertaking. Do you fear you’ve bitten off more than
you can chew?
I have, totally. Everyone told me to stick to sharks and that I would dilute my message. Blah blah blah. I loved the shark stuff, but I kept meeting scientists at conferences who said I was missing the point: saving sharks is important, but if the oceans are destroyed, it won’t matter.
How do you keep your own eco-footprint in check?
I try to buy as little as possible. I get hand-me-down clothes, and I share things as often as I can.
And beyond hand-me-downs?
Change starts with education. If people are aware of their impact on the earth, they’ll make smarter choices. We also have to take power back from the government. Politicians are our servants. They should have cameras in their bathrooms and all their phone conversations recorded. That would put power back in the hands of the people and make the world a very different place.
In addition to being rather extreme, your message can come across as somewhat sanctimonious. Have you felt the wrath of the hypocrisy police?
The hypocrisy is there, totally. I don’t eat seafood, so I was squeaky clean for Sharkwater. For Revolution, it’s complicated. I just flew back from a vacation in Costa Rica; I drive a Land Rover. I’m probably not living the way I should. I don’t know the right answer to that yet.
Does saving the world leave any time for a personal life?
I tried dating somebody, but I haven’t figured that out yet. I can’t wait to fall in love and maybe start a family.
But with only one kid, right?
One kid. Or who knows? Maybe none.