[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=te5MeQUX4kk[/embed] In honour of the late director Rob Stewart, Cineplex Odeon theatres across Canada screened his award-winning documentary Sharkwater on Feb. 25.
Rob Stewart passed away Feb. 3 during a deep dive off the coast of Key Largo, FL. He was 37 years-old. Stewart was a Toronto-born activist, biologist and documentary film-maker.
His 2006 documentary Sharkwater addresses the common misconceptions of sharks and casts a spotlight on the corruptive industry of shark fin fishing.
As a tribute to Stewart, theatres screened Sharkwater in exchange for donations to the World Widlife Fund (WWF) Canada. Donations will help to continue the work Stewart was doing in the conservation and protection of sharks.
Pat Burnet, a retired social worker, came to the event after hearing about the death of the director and to support WWF. Burnet said the film was impactful and eye-opening.
“I said to myself, ‘is this who we’ve become?’ just thinking about all the horrible things today that we are doing to the planet. But it was also hopeful. I thought he did a brilliant job on the film and getting the message across. I was quite impressed,” said Burnet.
The death of the director has been a shock to many Canadians and Toronto locals in attendance.
Soumen Karmakar is an IT consultant involved in animal activism with various organizations. He heard about the event through Facebook.
“It’s very sad that he died. He brought a lot of publicity to the act of shark killing. It’s just sad because he was a local too. He did a lot for sharks and hopefully it doesn’t end there,” said Karmakar.
Stewart studied at the University of Western Ontario to earn his biology major. After his studies, he worked as an underwater photographer for a number of years before embarking on his journey to create the film, joining Paul Watson and the Sea Shepard Conservation Society. They worked together with governments to prevent the illegal long-line fishing of sharks in places such as the Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica.
President of the Peoples Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Kimberly Heys, was in attendance. PAWS is a charity dedicated to helping abandoned and abused animals.
“I met Rob years ago and supported all of his work including the fight for the Bala falls. I think (this event) is incredible and absolutely necessary,” said Heys.
A public funeral was held in Toronto for Stewart on Feb 18. to allow all who loved Stewart a chance to say their final farewells.
Prior to his death, Stewart was working on a sequel to Sharkwater called Sharkwater: Extinction. Currently production is paused, but the crew is still accepting donations on Indiegogo to help finish the documentary and carry on Stewart’s vision and legacy.
The work Stewart has done as an advocate for the conservation of sharks has set the stage for many documentaries to come. Even after his death, Stewart’s work continues to be an inspiration for many.
“It’s world changing,” said Heys, “not just life changing.”
This piece was edited by Luke Elisio, Film Editor of CanCulture.