I travelled to Costa Rica recently and spent time aboard the M/V Sharkwater, the ship christened in honour of Rob Stewart, a biologist and film maker who bought attention to the devastation created by the shark fin trade and the potential disaster that may descend on us if sharks are driven to extinction. The company I work for, Lush Cosmetics, arranged the trip; they'd funded Rob's efforts for many years and wanted to help carry on his attempt to spread a compassionate message and this journey, where I and a group of co-workers spent time working with marine biologists to collect data on sea turtles and sharks, was one of the ways in which they tried to do that.
I gained new insight into many aspects of marine conservation and activism and recorded much of what I learnt in short video interviews I made with the marine biologists Randall and Daniel Arauz. I knew that my filming work wasn't going to be of a high standard - even with such knowledgable talkers as Randall and Daniel at my disposal there's a limit to what an inexperienced film maker can do with a simple, non-modified iPhone and an old GoPro - but I reckoned that it'd be good enough to spread some small amount of awareness among my friends and family. I'd make a few films now and again, show them on my Facebook page, and try to talk about what I'd learnt in Costa Rica to those who could bear to tear themselves away from looking at cat videos. Nothing large scale, and that was fine. If we can each spread a measure of truth to just a handful of people close to us, then I believe that is a solid start for us as individuals.
Yesterday though, things changed a little. Lush asked us all to post fun, marine style selfies and use certain hashtags such as #savesharks. I thought that since I’d heard it was Shark Week I'd go one step further and tune the TV's at work to the Discovery Channel. Now, Shark Week is basically an invention of the Discovery Channel. I don't have TV and have never watched the Discovery Channel, but I heard it was pretty good so I expected the Shark Week programs to talk about shark conservation and how we need sharks as they're the head of the ocean food chain, and since the ocean produces over half of the oxygen we need to live, it's in our interests to keep things in balance there.
Of course, this isn't a great message. The better one would point to how cruel our treatment of other animals is but hey, if you want to stop sharks getting tortured and killed and the main way of making that happen is to appeal to human self interest, then ok, I think we can let the lack of soul slide.
So I stood there watching the first few minutes of the Discovery Channel shark documentary and thought, what a lazy, childish, uninformed pile of shit this is.
It was the same old story, telling of how dangerous sharks are, and there was this dude with one arm which he said had been taken by a bull shark, trying to counsel Rhonda Rousey, the famous cage fighter, in how to be in the water with this most dangerous of animals. It was us against them. The famous human fighter against the famous killer shark.
I thought at first, why on earth is Lush even associating itself with this juvenile rubbish. I guess it's because they just want to bring awareness to the plight of sharks, and shark week seemed a decent platform from which to gain attention. Fair enough. And perhaps I was being rash, perhaps I'd just caught the Discovery Channel at a bad time. I'd tune in later, they'd probably be showing Rob's film 'Sharkwater', or the sequel, or something that was more balanced, made by real human beings rather than a bunch of frightened, sensationalist, 50 year old toddlers.
Later that day I tuned in again. There was the bleach blonde chef, Guy Fieri, and the title was 'Guy Fieri's Feeding Frenzy.' Fucking stupid title, but I didn't let it put me off. It was good wildlife filming, but once again the emphasis was on how scary sharks are, how we should be frightened of them.
My experiences in Costa Rica tell me otherwise. So I thought I'd step up my efforts and try to put together some films to start relaying the truth, and get them out on the internet ASAP, to try to combat the nonsense that the mainstream media seems so fond of peddling.
My filming quality is garbage, I admit, but I've learnt that this isn't always important. When I won the Canadian 24hr running championship last year aged 49 it wasn't because I was the best runner, or even because I'm vegan (although that helped immensely), it was because I turned up. Simple as that.
I turned up on training days, and I turned up on race day, and I tried my best. Sometimes, when the bar is so low in life, as it often is in the Western World, to stand out and make a difference all you have to do is turn up, align your actions with your values and thoughts, and put in some hard work. Hopefully that same equation will work with my films. The quality of filming and production is a fraction of what you'll see on the Discovery Channel this week, but hopefully the fact that the films are not full of fear and bullshit will count for something with viewers, and the truth will get out there more and more.
So here's a few of my short films to start with. More will come tomorrow.