DVD Movie Review: Room 237 (2012)

1682657-poster-1280-room-237-unlock-doc-enlists-kubrick-obsessives-to-decode-secretsDull boys

Picturenose welcomes writer, screenwriter and all-round film expert Paul Morris with his thoughts on Rodney Ascher‘s dissection of Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining (1980).

There are little boys who love nothing better than passing a lazy summer’s day pulling the legs off spiders – then there are those who like to watch others remove the limbs of said unsuspecting arthropods. The nine disembodied guests gathered around a mike in Room 237 are certainly in the voyeur category.

Room 237 is a conspiracy theory in miniature, or rather in the minutiae wherein they claim lie the hidden messages in Stanley Kubrick’s horror – I prefer psychological – classic The Shining (1980). If you believe the nine ‘experts’ in this insanely detailed work these messages have been breeding faster than a colony of rabbits that has stumbled upon a packet of Viagra. They are, it appears, to be found in every frame, and someone has to be obsessed enough to check every frame, making the film last days rather than its original running time of 146 minutes.

Room 237 is as billed as a documentary but it feels more like a film school test set by a permanently sozzled professor who didn’t quite cut it in Hollywood. Director Rodney Ascher is clearly teacher’s pet. It has the feel of early 1970s commercial films, for some small city attempting to attract first-time buyers to its corner of the dust bowl: in other words, the budget didn’t quite stretch to images that always match or enhance these nine voices of God.

It has been described as “head-spinning” and it has that effect as we are bombarded with the evidence of the secret intentions of one of Hollywood’s most maverick – to put it mildly – filmmakers. In this film the devil in so much in Jack Torrance but in the detail, and there’s lots of it. At times it’s positively hallucinogenic. I had to pause it and take a breather after I watched a very, very slow zoom in on a poster until the camera found a fuzzy image of a skier – you’ll have to watch it to find out the significance of that blurry character.

You have to really buy into this malarkey from the off or you’ll find yourself shouting at the screen ‘Come on!’, ‘Seriously!’, followed by umpteen ‘For real!’s. Kubrick was renowned for being difficult – more, I think, a power struggle with producers than anything to do with creative juices – but the notion that he planted so many little secrets on his set is dubious, not to say ludicrous. I directed my own humble low-low budget feature some time back and the set designers could have dumped a blood-soaked thoroughbred’s head in my hospital bed scene and I wouldn’t have spotted it, such is the frantic nature of no money filmmaking.

The nine different earnest views of what the film is really about range from the genocide of Native Americans to the Apollo 11 moon landing (yes, that old turnip again), rather than simply a very well-made film based (loosely) on a bestseller by Stephen King – “an entertainment”, as Graham Greene used to call some of his novels. I can picture these creative conspiracy theorists staring at the back of the cornflakes packet in the morning until it reveals its true meaning.

A friend of mine took his Granny to the cinema, to see Star Wars (1977). Driving her back home he asked: “So what did you think of the film?” She replied: “It’s a bit far-fetched.”

PS. It’s heartening to know that director Ascher admitted to not believing any of these theories. Thanks for the ride, Rodney.

102 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Into the Abyss (2011)

into-the-abyss-movie-image-02A tale of death, a tale of life

“Some people just don’t deserve to live,” utters the daughter and sister of a murdered mother and brother. Thus, legendary German film maker Werner Herzog takes his camera and idiosyncratic style to the United States of America to explore capital punishment and death row with Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life (2011).

Focusing on three capital murders in Texas in 2001, bizarre and unusual interviewees are encountered, from a pastor regaling an encounter with a squirrel, the artificial insemination of a prison wife “groupie” and a young man on death row managing to keep an ultimately forlorn smile on his face throughout the entire film’s duration.

A camera shot eerily advancing down the hallway between the cells and walls leading to the chamber of death provides one of the most Herzogian moments in the film. Empty cells and tables replete with bibles, and thus the presence of God (one of many religious overtones), are just a precursor to the room where death will take place. The haunting music and sight of the gurney itself makes this small but pivotal moment even more poignant when we are introduced to the person who will be killed there.

Death row inmate Michael Perry was sentenced at the age of 18 for the capital murders of Sandra Stotler, her son Adam and his friend Jeremy Richardson, merely to acquire her red Camero car. He is eight days away from death. Still convinced of his innocence, despite highly probative evidence to the contrary, he believes that as a Christian a right will be wronged and he is either “going home or home”.

Herzog lays his cards out from the offset, informing Perry that he does not believe in the death penalty and expresses his sympathy. Yet from here on in Werner does little to actively construct an argument for his own point of view. He is very fair to all sides.

A frustration to some, maybe, but Herzog will do things his way – this is not a Michael Moore film. We are presented with a sequence showing the very shocking and senseless nature of the crimes committed by Perry and his cohort Jason Burkett. Real crime scene footage of blood stains. The lifeless legs of a victim. Empty shot-gun cartridges. Detailed analysis by a local cop who informs us of the very specific nature of the heinous crimes committed. It is hard to not to feel the most utmost sympathy towards the victims and their families.

The impact on the victims families is important. Stotler’s daughter Lisa conveys the emptiness of her life losing her family. Jeremy Richardson’s brother is almost inconsolable over the death of his best friend, the “golden child”. Herzog is a master at inducing emotional responses from people by merely talking to them.

It’s his simple but curious follow-up questions that do the damage. Keeping the camera rolling when the talking is done gets the best emotional responses. Tearful eyes and discomfort conveys plenty.

Burkett was spared the death sentence due to an emotional plea from his father at his trial. Also a long-term prison detainee, his assertion that he was a terrible father was enough to convince two members of a jury to save his son’s life.

Killing another person wouldn’t correct what happened or bring the victims back. We see the tale of death, tale of life in action. The fine line between a man who died and a man who did not. Burkett went on to marry a member of his defence team and is expecting his first child (“contraband” smuggled out of prison to allow this provides one of the film’s most amusing and uplifting moments). Is the process therefore merely arbitrary as to who lives and dies?

As for the actual protocol of death, Reverend Richard Lopez, the death house chaplain, portrays the proceedings as very godly. This is Texas, after all.

It’s as if his role is to act on God’s behalf to give his blessing and make sure God’s work is done. His emotion at being unable to stop the process, although he wishes he could, is captured in one of Herzog’s frequent trademark lingering camera shots which dwell on the characters face after the talking has been done. His squirrel to human being analogy is truly bizarre. Herzog himself says he found the preacher to be phony, like something from a television commercial.

This contrasts sharply with Fred Allen, the former death house captain and state executioner. The man with life and liberty in his hands. For him, the tiresome stench of 125 deaths forced him to relinquish his duty. Recalling the story of Texas’ first execution of a woman since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 (Karla Faye Tucker) and how it changed him, is utterly moving.Witnessing the emotion of a man’s defences breaking down palpably is as damning evidence against the death penalty as could have been sought. It is easy to seek death. It is harder to perpetrate it.

The film does meander. However, a Herzog ramble is always a valuable exercise. For a centered view, it provides compelling viewing. It is not a polemical view of the death penalty. It will most likely not change America’s stance on capital punishment like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing (1988) did in Poland, but as an exploration of the human spirit a better film will be hard to find.Were this a boxing contest, the pro death-penalty lobby lands significant punches. But for some the anti will have landed the significant blow. Make up your own mind. But with 100,000 British citizens signing a petition for capital punishment to be reinstated, the right-wing tabloids banging the drum and the legal obligation for it to be debated in Parliament, it is a timely reminder of the impact it has on all its protagonists.

107 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Leviathan (2012)

leviathan2012Step on bored

One of the most divisive films to be released this year is the documentary Leviathan (2012). Not divisive in the sense of its material being controversial or engaging, but rather the style in which the material is presented. Created by directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass (2009)) and Verena Paravel (Foreign Parts (2010)), we step aboard a small commercial fishing vessel off the coast of Massachusetts and witness a regular day and night in the life of a group of fishermen. Leviathan doesn’t present any individual viewpoints or critique the fishing practice. It simply shows what occurs and for that it is a pure documentary. Everything you witness is for you to critique.

Some may be disgusted to see stingray’s fins chopped off in mechanic fashion while still breathing. Others will find beauty in the ship’s efficiency as it maneuvers during a grand haul. For me, certain scenes play out as if they are a part of a horror film with fish’s blood making its way onto every pore of the fisherman and the vessel itself.

There is hardly any dialogue and the majority of the footage seems to be captured via GoPro that appears to be randomly attached to different structures aboard the ship. These shots shift from the ship’s starboard, to its underbelly, to the chum spilled in the ocean to attract the fish. At first, the environment feels new and cringe-worthy – almost rendering the viewer into a claustrophobic haze. Then, after an hour, you begin to notice that you’re beginning to look at your watch wondering when you dock and can get off the ship.

In the documentary Sweetgrass, we witnessed the very last sheep drive over the Beartooth Mountains of Montana. A trade once necessary for food transports that is no longer a needed practice in today’s food stream. We see the people who to this day relied on these annual drives. We witnessed the grit, routine, and beauty involved in transporting thousands of sheep. Again, in Sweetgrass, there was no plot or idealistic viewpoint, but we were fully absorbed in its elements, predators, and personality.

In Leviathan, we simply only see the process and the circle of life. We only see injured birds, fish being filleted while still alive, and groggy-eyed fisherman. While Leviathan has some beautiful shots, in sum it felt like a bunch of cameras were simply left running over night and everything that was usable was featured. After it was labelled as one of the must-see documentaries of 2013, I never thought I’d want to throw myself overboard just so I could swim back to shore.

87 mins.

Documentary: MalletheadZ – A Bike Polo Story (2013)

453515778_640MalletheadZ – A Bike Polo Story (2013) is a short documentary about a passionate group of grass bike polo players from Durango, Colorado who were invited to play in the inaugural Mile High Mallet Throwdown in Denver, Colorado.  

The group, known as the MalletheadZ, is a close bunch always looking towards their next game and promptly accepted the challenge.  Only problem was that the tournament was to be played on hard-court – a style they’ve never played on before.  The MalletheadZ would also be competing in a round-robin style tournament against some top quality teams from Denver and Boulder.

Scored with a vivacious soundtrack and interesting characters, MalletheadZ – A Bike Polo Story is a terrific little documentary that will entice you to dust off your fixed gear and look up your local bike polo team.

To watch MalletheadZ – A Bike Polo Story (2013) for yourself, click here.

Cinema Movie Review: Stories We Tell (2012)

'Stories We Tell' - TIFF 201299.9997% indisputable

Director-screenwriter Sarah Polley (pictured) (Away from Her (2006) and Take This Waltz (2011)) has taken her family and friend’s memories to create one of the best pieces of cinema this decade has to offer. Beginning with introducing Sarah’s own brothers, sisters, father, and family friends, we are told a detailed and emotional story about Sarah’s mother from different perspectives.

As we all know, everyone remembers stories differently. Depending on circumstances, previous experiences, and whether or not you’ve had your morning coffee, differing variables and motivations cause us to remember our experiences slightly different from others. However, when a story has one big secret that stays dormant for decades, some memories and details emerge while others begin to fade.

In Stories We Tell, the focus of the story surrounds Diane, Sarah’s mother. From each sibling we receive their loving recollection of their mother. They discuss in detail her energetic laugh, vivacious dancing, and larger-than-life persona. We also receive a recollection from Diane’s friends and how they remember her as sporadic, unorganized, and lonely. Mostly narrated by Sarah’s father, Michael, we also begin to realize the story being told and receive a first-hand taste on how to take life into perspective. That sometimes events happen because of the way you choose to live your life.

As the minutes begin to peel away, layer upon layer of the story begins to emerge. Family friends turn out to be not just friends, brother and sisters turn out to be only half blood. Certain fond memories from childhood are fully explained, realized, and needing to be dealt with in a very adult manner. To tell any more would be to ruin a special viewing from such a great story – a story to be told by Sarah, not me.

To simply state that this story needs to be told to a large audience would simplify the story’s message. In essence, the film allows the viewer to instill their own childhood memories to determine what is real and who to trust. Even though evidence suggests a fact is 99.9997% indisputable, the memories and how you proceed is ultimately up to you.

108 mins.

DVD Movie Review: The Sound of Insects – Record of a Mummy (2009)

160121.1What’s the buzz?

In 2009, the European Film Academy proudly announced that the award European Film Academy Documentary 2009 – Prix ARTE was to be presented to the film The Sound of Insects – Record of a Mummy by Peter Liechti of Switzerland.

In co-operation with the European culture channel ARTE, the European Film Academy annually honours an outstanding achievement in documentary film-making. The recipient of the award is chosen by an independent jury, whose members in 2009 were documentary film-maker Nino Kirtadzé from France/Georgia, Austrian producer and ORF editor Franz Grabner and Russian documentary filmmaker Viktor Kossakovsky. Upon the invitation of the city of Vilnius, the jury members screened all ten nominated films and decided on the winner on site.

The jury decided to give the award to The Sound of Insects “for its skillful exploration of minimalistic means to create an extraordinary visual story between life and death”. Intrigued? You should be – watch a clip from the film here.

87 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Sound City (2013)

Sound-City‘Music really isn’t supposed to be perfect’: Tom Petty

David Grohl’s debut documentary film, Sound City (2013), spotlights Sound City Studios in Los Angeles and the reasons it was so popular with many musical geniuses from its time. Numerous musical masterminds recall their favorite recollections from Sound City while recording albums at this tiny, unassuming studio in the San Fernando Valley. Beginning in 1969 with Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac, the studio and it’s one of a kind soundboard, would forever become a piece of rock ‘n’ roll folklore.

Broken into three sections, the documentary first introduces the original Sound City Studio owners, as well as its initial recordings and subsequent rise to notoriety. The studio began with taking a huge risk by recording Fleetwood Mac. Once Fleetwood Mac’s records soared, such other acts like Elton John, REO Speedwagon, Santana and The Grateful Dead signed on. Yet, it wasn’t until the rise of the hair band during the 80’s that the studio received a constant flow of talent. Once the hairspray dried up so did the studio’s clients. That is until Grohl and Nirvana entered through their doors.

The second segment of the documentary feels less structured as it begins to discuss the usage of analogue recording and the effects computers and machinery caused on the music industry. Multiple artists discussed how a part of rock ‘n’ roll’s soul died the day analog was no longer being used exclusively. The debate being that analog improved the artist since there was nowhere to hide in their recordings. There was no computer touch ups. There wasn’t any way to make a record perfect except to record it perfectly. Knowing Grohl is an outspoken voice against the current pop star, singing competition culture, I was really getting excited for one of his rants. Sadly, there was no eruption of emotions and Grohl quickly moved on.

The final segment is basically one giant big jam session (or advertisement – depending on how you look at it) where all the former musicians from Sound City Studio participate at Grohl’s new studio, Studio 606. Grohl purchases Sound City’s famous and one of a kind analog soundboard and installs it in his own studio. A special guest appearance comes and finishes the film’s jam session and we get to watch Grohl get giddy with childlike excitement.

Overall, the documentary is more of a nostalgic trip down memory lane. It is from a time when music was actually played with instruments. When people gathered around each other to make an album. Sound City doesn’t hit on any hard topics, but instead prods the artists to remember their favorite part about making music at Sound City. For that, and the jam sessions at the end, Sound City is one of the year’s most enjoyable documentaries.

108 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks (2013)

WFTCRMImageFetchThe whole truth?

Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010) and Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)), focuses his line of questioning on the phenomenon of government secret keeping and the media’s exploitation of those secrets. Australian hacker turned activist Julian Assange created a website called Wikileaks with the sole purpose of pushing a free-speech agenda. The goal was for no one to feel safe keeping information from the general public. Assange felt there should be no secrets in this digital age and was to use Wikileaks as a vehicle for hackers, informers and whistleblowers to release any and all classified information. It stated with a bang, but ended with a secret.

Gibney obtained access to Assange and his followers, allowing us to see into the minds of rebel nerds revolting against their parents with their computers. We learned the organization’s main motives and its internal structure, or lack there of, of what quickly became one of the most well-known and sophisticated websites in the world. As Wikileaks became more notorious, so did its poster boy. So when the media attention swarmed and Wikileaks grew, so did Assange’s ego and paranoia.

One of the mantras Wikileaks always held was that it would keep their whistleblowers’ identities safe. But what happens if someone wants to be known for their leak? The leak that ultimately sprung a leak in Wikileak’s ship began with Bradley Manning. A farm boy from Oklahoma, Manning didn’t feel right in his own skin and is looking for answers. A trans-gendered computer technician deployed in Iraq, Manning had access to a plethora of his nation’s secrets. Once Manning was unable to cope with the effects of war and he could no longer handle his feeling of loneness, he reached out to anyone that would listen: Assange.

Assange always showed in the media his courage and idealism for a world without secrets. Yet, he was hiding his own. Scared and paranoid, Assange allowed his own secrets to penetrate the Wikileaks shell and ultimately destroy his vision. After Manning was arrested and the United States’ military leaks were causing a political headache, Assange was slapped with suspicion of rape by two women. Politically motivated? Possibly. Except you get to meet one of the women and get to know the real story.

Gibney has a talent for piercing his subject’s public personae by revealing their submission to their natural human instincts. During his thought-provoking Client 9, Gibney questioned the ethics of Wall Street. Elliot Spitzer was the person responsible for punishing that corruption on Wall Street, but was soon out of the job after his craving for prostitutes was revealed. Do one’s ideologies for the general good outweigh their personal shortcoming? In We Steal Secrets, Assange is the secret teller, but is also the secret keeper.

Overall, We Steal Secrets is another addition to Gibney’s excellent portfolio of hard-hitting documentaries. There are images that will be hard to shake, but you will also find yourself rooting for some unlikely heroes. You will also think twice about who you tell your secrets to.

130 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Room 237 (2012)

room-237-documentary-full-trailer-2013Room with a view

Conspiracy theories and opinions run amok in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, Room 237 (2012). In great detail, Ascher interviews nine contributors who have spent years analyzing and deciphering Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining (1980). From people who simply try to piece together the illusionary hotel’s surroundings to messages Kubrick may have been secretly trying to tell his audience, each contributor to the story has a different approach to the genius of Kubrick’s vision.

We are all aware that Kubrick is regarded as a genius director simply for being possibly the most manic and controlling director of his time. Therefore, people assume every detail, from a missing chair to a ski poster in the background, has meaning the director deemed was required. Every colour, sound, frame and (Jack Nicholson) eyebrow is open for analysis.

In Room 237, each conspirator grasps for a reason to make The Shining an even better film. Several of the commentators stated, that upon their initial viewing of The Shining, they had just seen a classic film, but sensed something was missing. It took another few, or sometimes hundreds, of viewings to pinpoint what they couldn’t comprehend in their original viewing. This is when the conspiracy theories and, sometimes even, plausible opinions begin to surface.

As noted in the documentary, Kubrick took certain liberties to instill his own vision into Stephen King’s novel. He changed aspects involving so many key aspects of the original book, that you can understand why King was upset. Therefore, again due to Kubrick’s controlling reputation, it’s each of these changes that the commentators rely on most when making their claims. Some conspiracies are not so far fetched, like the hotel’s layout being in such a way that it cannot be possible. There are also some ideas or theories that are borderline mental. For instance, that Kubrick was responsible for directing the original moon landing and he plants, time and time again, hints in the film to prove it. Room 237’s director uses these commentator’s voices mostly for voice-overs allowing the audience to actually witness the instance in the film that is being described. To great affect I might add.

One by one, another contributor greets us and discusses what they believe Kubrick was trying to communicate. Was Kubrick trying to say the child was molested or was he simply trying to sneak comedic bits into the foreground so it’d look like Nicholson was aroused? These details are all brought up with convincing proof, spun around and around, until you’ve lost your room key and forgot which floor you are on.

As a whole, the sum of the parts makes the documentary an interesting viewing. Especially for the portions when they go into such detail by showing the hotel’s halls and mazes and the research Kubrick put into the film. However, once it begins to lean heavily on a couple of wild conspiracy theories the film begins to lose some luster. Personally, I think those that create these conspiracy theories, such as the current Boston Massacre theory or the fake moon landing (to only name a couple), are people who either cannot accept the truth or they have an ulterior motive.

Overall, the one thing that is not debatable is that The Shining remains, and will forever be, one of the greatest horror films of all time. For so many people to continue to vest so much energy into the film after all these years only proves it worth. I’d recommend watching The Shining prior to watching this documentary, then again after the documentary. Maybe you’ll see something nobody else has.

102 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: The Imposter (2012)

The Imposter 2Beyond belief

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and sometimes a person’s desperation can cause them to avoid the truth. Bart Layton‘s The Imposter (2012) is such a crazy turn of events that if it were originally turned into a film and had ‘based on a true story’ slapped on its end credits, the audience would have collectively cried out ‘Bullshit!’.

It all began on the day Nicholas Barclay didn’t come home from playing basketball. The 13-year-old boy from San Antonio, Texas with blue eyes and blond hair was never seen again – fast-forward three years, and a 23-year-old Frenchman, Frédéric Bourdin, has turned himself into the police in Linares, Spain. However, he didn’t give them his name, simply a false age and a heartbreaking story. Originally, Bourdin claimed he was kidnapped and sexually abused with the hopes of being placed in a children’s home. However, as the police were not able to identify him and were becoming more suspicious, Bourdin turned his sights elsewhere. Knowing his lies could only last so much longer he moved onto his next deception – he began making random calls to several police stations throughout the United States about missing children.

Three years after the disappearance of Nicholas Barclay, Spanish police called the Barclay family and stated that he was alive. Nicholas’ family was told he was kidnapped by military pedophiles and flown to Spain where, after three years of incredible torture, he finally escaped. Nicholas’ sister then flew out to Spain to identify her brother. Upon her arrival, Bourdin tried to alter his physical appearance, knowing that he was much older, had black hair, brown eyes and a thick French accent. Thinking his deception was no longer valid, he was shocked to find Nicholas’ sister actually believing him. Given that no family would take in a complete stranger from another country, Bourdin was given a US passport, a family, and a friendly atmosphere for the first time in his life. Naturally however, the FBI wants to hear more about these military pedophiles. How long can the lie continue?

Through interviews with the Barclay family you begin to believe that they were either immensely stupid or they were in such a state of denial that they actually believed it was Nicholas. To think that not only the Spanish police, the American Embassy, FBI, and the missing child’s own family all believed Bourdin was really Nicholas is a testament to Bourdin’s talents of deception. The aspect of the story that sold the FBI agent was how detailed his torture was and how scared emotionally he became. Leading the agent to believe this actually did happen to him at some point in Bourdin’s life. Yet, something still wasn’t right.

The story is told through a collection of interviews with the actual family members and Bourdin discussing the story. We are also introduced to the FBI agent who finally figured everything out. The ending doesn’t provide any concrete answers with exception to knowing that Bourdin lied and was a troubled soul. However, the documentary leaves you thinking about the intentions every person had in this absurd true story.

Was the family really that naïve? Or did they have a reason to bring Nicholas home? What do you think?

99 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Sharkwater (2006)

sharkwater2Would the real killer please stand up?

We received this as a review copy from our friends at Paradiso a long time ago – years ago, in fact. Why did it take so long to review, then? If I’m honest, it’s the subject. It caught my eye as I am a huge fan of natural history documentaries, the type put out on an all-too-infrequent basis by the BBC. Then I read the cover and my heart sank. I will be honest with you here and tell you what went through my mind as I read the text: ‘Sharks…blah blah…stunning photography… blah blah… misunderstood… blah blah… act now…’

Great, so here I had willingly elected to watch what the legendary Eric Cartman would describe as a “…bunch of tree-hugging hippy crap”. Her indoors wouldn’t watch it with me. Side note: we have a ‘mine’, ‘hers’ and ‘ours’ pile. Mine are all the potentially good stuff, ‘ours’ consists of things I will probably tolerate and ‘hers’ is just, well, Coco Before Chanel and the like. The cinematic equivalent of shoe shopping. I digress. That side note was merely to inform you that Sharkwater stayed firmly on the ‘mine’ pile and never ventured further – a tacit agreement had been reached and Sharkwater would not be viewed together.

The reason for all this unprompted honesty is not borne of some Damascene conversion to all things hessian, rather from a quite new experience for me. I was wrong. I was wrong not to have read the blurb properly. I was wrong to have shuffled it around the to-view pile in favour of big-budget frippery such as Tron: Legacy (2012). More importantly, I was wrong about my entire perception of sharks, one that partly comes from the same place as everyone else’s – the movies. Films don’t usually garner awards for no reason, with the exception perhaps of Titanic (1997), and Sharkwater won around 14, so it also appears that independent film juries know better than me. This was turning out to be a bad day.

Not as bad as for the shark population in our oceans. Clumsy segues aside, sharks are literally being killed in their millions every year and very little is done about it because they are aren’t cuddly like pandas, coquettish like dolphins and don’t have the big-eyed greeting card cuteness of a Harp Seal. The reason for this wholesale slaughter is very simple: Dinner. Shark’s Fin Soup is a delicacy in China and the fins are valued as a cure or prophylactic against arthritis, cancers and that old favourite, sexual potency.

It”s also true to say that in the seven-odd years since this film was first released, many countries have banned the sale or possession of fins – including China. However, the black market, as demonstrated by the 1930s prohibition of alcohol in the US, is a powerful and lucrative affair. Sharkwater is very careful not to point the finger at anyone in particular, particularly China and tries to convey the message of shark preservation as a balanced and reasonable argument. I would have to say that I don’t believe it always succeeds but a film by a self-confessed lover of the shark would hardly be otherwise, however carefully he tried to disguise it.

The shark-lover in question is one Rob Stewart, a diver, photographer and marine biologist. He has had a passion for sharks since he was a kid – as he explains in the preamble to the main thrust of the film. He is also very keen to debunk the mythology surrounding sharks, using soundbites such as ‘more people are killed by elephants every year than are killed by sharks’.

Thankfully, he keeps these to a minimum and stays on-target for the majority of the film. The message he has to deliver is not a terribly hopeful or optimistic one, either. Quite apart from the barbaric way in which the sharks are (graphically) yanked from the water, de-finned and shoved back into the ocean to bleed out, there is a deeper issue – one of marine conservation. Whales are protected because they are few in number. Sharks are numerous (for now) but may well contribute greatly to the ecological balance of the oceans, feeding on the fish that feed on the plankton and so on. Upsetting this balance could reduce all such life lower in the food chain.

When you stop to consider that plankton are the biggest absorber of man-made CO2, and that fewer sharks equal fewer fish and less plankton, the environmental benefits are more clear. Whatever your take on climate change, carbon emissions or biodiversity, this is something we will never know until the sharks are reduced in such significant numbers that they stop affecting the ocean life cycle. By then, it may be too late.

From a cinematographic perspective, Sharkwater is a joy. Gorgeous, lingering ocean-scapes, kelp forests and more marine life than you could shake a stick at. Out of the water, the story is told in a very rough and raw documentary style, a counterpoint that actually serves to add impetus to the story rather than detract from it. Sometimes the sensationalism is a little over-played but I got the impression it was from genuine passion rather than a desire to deceive. I put it down to having become inured to Hollywood having dumbed me down and don’t doubt the credentials or the veracity of the small filming crew at all.

The results may surprise you. A simple tale about one man’s passion and a desire to protect the humble shark quickly escalates into a story of corrupt South American courts, gangster activity, death threats and physical violence. If people are going to all this trouble to prevent the truth of what is happening to the shark from coming out, doesn’t it seem likely there must be a story worth telling?

89 mins.