Sharks and Film: Our changing perceptions

In September 2012, the Canadian Surf Film Festival (CSFF) screened not one, but two films on sharks. Every year the CSFF chooses films that speak to different issues or interest groups. Examples include anti-nuclear movements, mental health, poverty, violence, spirituality, animal rights, etc.  As a person who greatly respects the ocean and all of its inhabitants, and as the Marketing Director of the CSFF, I was personally pleased to have these shark films in the festival.

We screened a feature length film by Julian Watson, titled ‘Surfing & Sharks’, which was filmed in South Africa. This film takes you through stories of recounted shark attacks, positive encounters, and the loss of loved ones due to shark attacks.  With most of the subjects being surfers, the film tugged on the often misguided heartstrings; between the joy of surfing, and the fear of shark attacks.  Unlike surfing the waters off Nova Scotia, South Africa is a place known for its abundant shark populations.  Despite the tragic stories in the film, I found that sharks were portrayed as beautiful and intelligent animals, rather than the usual rogue man-eating shark.  The tearjerker, in my opinion, was when a man who lost his little brother as a result of a shark attack, sat fearful on the edge of a boat, and then hopped into the ocean to snorkel with hundreds of sharks.  He really faced his fear of sharks, and even despite the loss of his brother, he found the sharks to be beautiful, and understood their ecological importance.   I found this to be an incredibly powerful scene.

The other film screened was a short, titled, ‘Thrill of the Catch’, by Jarrett Corke, Brendal Davis and Aurelie Godin.  This film takes an interesting and educational look into Nova Scotia’s shark derbies. Though many people are unaware of these events, internationally they remain controversial, and the directors felt they needed to further understand the issues surrounding these events. While the impact of these derbies on shark population is not substantial, I find that the events, and the way that sharks are displayed as trophies only hinders the battle of trying to show them in a positive light. On the other hand, these events are a great data-mining resource for scientific purposes, and they also provide socio-economic benefits for the small coastal communities in which the derbies occur.  Where do I stand?  I’m not 100% sure.  It’s easy to see the communal and scientific benefits of the derbies, but nevertheless, I don’t think I stand behind the unprovoked killing of sharks.  This film provides a great local perspective on sharks in Nova Scotia.

I would definitely recommend watching both films.  The two films are a great follow up to Rob Stewart’s first movie, SHARKWATER.   He was in town the weekend prior to the CSFF for the launch of his new film, REVOLUTION, at the Atlantic Film Festival.  However, herein lies something greater than the films themselves.  Sharks – being shown on the big screen – portrayed not as man-eating predators, but for the beautiful and important creatures that they are. The shift from JAWS to these films and other pro-shark films over the past couple of years is hopefully a sign to the increase of awareness surrounding global shark population decline.  I do think we are on the right track and right now, sharks are in the constructive spotlight.  They have the stage and we have the power to keep them there. I can only hope the fuel that started this fire of education, awareness and conservation keeps growing.

Written by: Jess Flynn

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2 Responses to Sharks and Film: Our changing perceptions

  1. Said says:

    I am actually new to the excrpienee of and had my first dive only a few months ago while i was away on holiday. The excrpienee was fantastic and i think it is an unrivaled feeling, a little difficult to explain unless you have done it before. The good news is my 10 year old daughter now wants to try out diving and is having her first lesson next week. So at least i will have someone to talk to about it.

  2. C D Seamone says:

    It is shameful for humans to think they have the right to exploit and destroy any species. Humans have a privileged position in this world and with that position comes the responsibility to protect our environment and its creatures. This includes sharks. Ban shark finning everywhere!

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