Seeing their late son, Toronto filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart, diving into the depths of the ocean on the big screen again has been a bittersweet experience for Sandy and Brian Stewart.
On the one hand they’re elated that his new documentary, “Sharkwater Extinction,” is coming to fruition after his death in January 2017 during shooting for the film off the Florida Keys.
But as the expose against the illegal shark-fin industry gets set to make its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, they also find it hard to watch.
“Because he talks through the whole film, it’s like he’s back,” Sandy Stewart said in a recent interview.
“Particularly hard is the ending, because it’s the end of his story. I think it’s the start of another adventure for other people, but no one was like Rob. He was pretty unique in his film style, his philosophy on the world, ‘Be a champion,’ and I think the world has lost one.”
The film is a followup to Stewart’s first 2006 documentary, “Sharkwater,” which was also at the festival.
Stewart returned to TIFF in 2012 with “Revolution,” where his parents cheered him on from the sidelines. This year they’re front and centre to represent him and promote the film, which came together thanks to help from his friends and colleagues.
“Shortly after the accident, we went through all of the footage, brought additional people onto the team,” said Sandy Stewart.
“But his entire team stayed with it, everybody stepped up. We have people from all over the world — cinematographers, filmmakers, really important people — offering to help finish this, and that was really heartwarming.”
Shot around the world in 6K, “Sharkwater Extinction” looks into political corruption and the pirate fishing trade surrounding illegal “shark finning,” a practice that involves removing a shark’s fin and discarding the animal at sea, which the filmmaker says is leading to the extinction of sharks.
Stewart’s extensive film notes, diagrams and sketches helped the team deliver a project that has his trademark action-adventure style and his overall message that everybody can help save the environment, say his parents.
“What I think we’ve managed to do is pull together people that have basically carried on his mission and are delivering a film by Rob, which is extraordinary in light of this situation,” said Brian Stewart.
“So we’re very proud of the work that’s been done on it. It’s been a lot of work for a lot of people but the end result is well worth it and the message is very clear: we’ve got to do something to get back in balance with nature before it’s too late.”
Stewart was a maverick in his documentary style, avoiding talking heads in favour of taking audiences on a journey with him. This film does the same, said his parents.
“We’re going to deliver a film that Rob would be proud of,” added Brian Stewart.
“The unfortunate thing is he’s not here with us doing this.”
His mission isn’t over, though.
The Stewarts say their conversation group, Team Sharkwater, is expanding every day with members including the “Sharkwater Extinction” team.
“People are wanting to become part of a team movement to create the change that Rob wanted to see,” said Brian Stewart.
“So I think the future for us will be to continue that mission and help those team members deliver on that mission.”
“Sharkwater Extinction” is set to open in theatres starting Oct. 5.