How will we survive extinction? This is the question asked in the very beginning of award-winning 33-year-old filmmaker Rob Stewart’s second documentary Revolution, which opened in theatres nationwide on Friday. As its name suggests, the film marks the need for and beginning of a global movement – and the first step is to get to the theatre to see it. You’ve likely seen (or at least heard of) Stewart’s first film, Sharkwater. Released in 2006, the shocking documentary has received numerous awards and inspired worldwide changes in government policy in the exploitation and killing of sharks for delicacies like shark-fin soup. In Revolution, a follow-up to Sharkwater, Stewart lays out how it isn’t just the sharks that are headed for extinction, but all of humanity, if changes are not made.
During a visit to Hong Kong in 2008 for a Sharkwater premiere, Stewart was faced with a question that left him at a loss for words when an audience member asked what the point was in saving the shark if fish populations are going to be wiped out by the middle of the century. Stewart realized that Sharkwater addressed only part of a much larger problem. It is not just about saving oceans and aquatic life, but ourselves as well. As coral scientist, Charlie Vernon explains in the film “what oceans do, the terrestrial world will follow.”
Revolution was filmed in 15 countries in four years, a journey through which, on a limited budget and in a project of pure passion, Stewart uncovers secrets to the ecosystem on which we depend, capturing incredible footage of wildlife and ocean life in the process. He shows that environmental degradation, ocean acidification, species loss, pollution and food and water scarcity will force human beings into extinction if changes are not made. It’s inevitable.
Stewart reveals how the shark population is down 90 per cent; the alarming rate at which coral reefs are dying and turning to rubble instead of feeding, and the subsequent decline in fish populations; how drastically carbon dioxide has changed the chemical composition of the ocean; how the burning of fossil fuels wipes out thousands of species each day; rampant deforestation in places like Madagascar; and, most alarming, how Canada is a major culprit in carbon dioxide emissions thanks to one big environmental mess in Alberta. Be warned: The sight of Alberta’s tar sand project may be blood boiling for some, and the film evokes anger toward the Canadian government for killing the Environmental Policy in a snap vote, as Stewart so powerfully asks, “why does Canada want to kill the oceans?”
While informative, the documentary is honest and straightforward, rather than preachy. Stewart is realistic and honest about his carbon footprint and the negative impact his lifestyle has on the environment and does not take a holier-than-thou approach that could potentially alienate the audience. Revolution involves a visually alluring adventure that leaves lasting images in the mind, like rows of hundreds of bloody shark bodies, footage of some of the most colourful and intriguing species ever encountered, or the heart-wrenching footage of Felix Finkbeiner, who founded Plant-for-the-Planet in 2007 at the age of nine, and his desperate, emotionally charged cries of “it’s my future!” at a rally. It is admittedly the type of film that makes you nervous about the future of your children, but also want to do something about it.
We caught up with Stewart on Friday following a highly successful premiere at the Scotiabank theatre the evening before.
What was the most shocking discovery made while shooting the film?
The most shocking thing for me was that some of the world’s largest issues are in our own backyard here in Canada with the tar sands in Alberta. Canada has the largest resources of oil, but unfortunately this oil is mixed with sand and dirt, which results in a retrieval process that causes the stripping of forests and high levels of carbon dioxide emissions, not to mention, detrimental effects on human health.
How do you hope the audience feels upon viewing the film?
I want viewers to leave feeling shocked but also inspired and excited to be a part of this change. For the first time in history, we have the tools to make a difference and can turn this all around. We just need consumer awareness. We are entering a time where many heroes will be created and called out. The good news is that people are passionate and committed to the cause.
Can you describe the most dangerous situations you found yourself in while shooting both Sharkwater and Revolution?
It is difficult to name just one. I have been chased by the Mafia, chased by coast guards with machine guns, been exposed to tuberculosis, caught the flesh-eating disease, been lost in the ocean, and I developed a pretty intense eye infection in Hong Kong.
Can you offer any advice anyone who aspires to create his or her own documentary?
It is easier than ever to film your own work. Camera technology is more accessible, with cameras more affordable these days. You can now even shoot and edit on an iPhone. There are stories that need to be told, and documentaries can be used as a powerful weapon to raise awareness and change the world. Take a giant step forward, go big, and just do it. You need to be completely committed and put your entire self into it.
What has been the most rewarding part of your career to date?
Definitely seeing kids worldwide react to Sharkwater, and the subsequent changing of government policy around the world.
What’s next for you?
I would like to get a billion people to see Revolution. That’s my main goal. Everyone is able to start making a difference now. We will soon offer a highly customizable mobile app as a conservation tool that will enable you to start changing the world now.
A must-see for young professionals, we spoke to some YPs who saw the film over the weekend:
“I thought the film was phenomenal. Rob is becoming an incredibly influential leader in climate change in Canada. His film was riveting, thought provoking, and startling all at once. It paints a very scary picture of our future, but suggests we may still have a very small window to act if everyone starts making immediate and powerful changes”.
– Robb MacDonald, lawyer, Toronto
“This movie added the human species to the ever-growing list of already recognized species to become extinct in this century, for me was gloom and doom shock, as it crushed the egotistical invulnerability of humans as a superior species. The good news is that the youth captured in the film show an educated and realistic view of the issues, and the passion of the younger generation in the film gives hope for a human and an environmental revolution.”
– Tania Carvalho, interior designer, Toronto
“The film is great as a tool for teaching youth about environmental issues, the human responsibility in this epidemic and also how they are a voice for change through education and action.”
– Sarah Ahmet, elementary school teacher, Toronto.
“The film was beautiful, impactful, touching and frightening. I was inspired by the beauty of the scenery and Rob Stewart’s passion and commitment.”
– Alanna Williams, writer, Toronto.
“Revolution is eye-opening. A line that has resonated with me was ‘we need to be more unreasonable, because if it were reasonable, everyone would be doing it’. It has inspired me to examine my current practices of operation as a business owner. Small changes can have a huge impact.”
– Andreas Antoniou, Managing Partner Little Anthony’s, Estiatorio VOLOS and The Ballroom, Toronto