Sharkwater. Even if you don't completely buy into the premise of this riveting documentary that sharks are among the most misunderstood creatures on the planet it's hard to argue with its assertions that sharks are a crucial component in the marine food chain and therefore an essential element of the global ecosystem. It's clear from the beginning that the young filmmaker, Rob Stewart, who wrote, directed, and shot the film, is something of a shark obsessive: "For as long as I can remember, I've been drawn to sharks," he says in his voice-over. "They're the most amazing and mysterious animal on Earth the only one that's perfect... [T]he one animal that we fear the most is the one we can't live without." Stewart backs up such seemingly extreme claims with considerable evidence. Sharks, he points out, have been around roughly 400 million years (they predate dinosaurs by about 150 million years), and every ocean-dwelling creature that has come into being since has been affected, in one way or another, by their presence. The gorgeously shot Sharkwater, one of the festival's closing-night films, vividly dramatizes the ecological signifi cance of sharks by following Stewart and other conservationists on expeditions to Costa Rica and the Galápagos Islands. Along the way, we see firsthand the horrific results of the form of fishing called finning, in which sharks are caught and then discarded back into the sea alive but doomed after their fins have been cut off. This brutal practice fuels a lucrative international market, especially in Asia, where shark-fin soup is served not just as a delicacy but also as a status symbol. Ironically, the fins have no distinctive taste of their own. Stewart also makes a convincing case that sharks, which claim an average of only five human lives annually (as opposed to a hundred deaths from elephants and tigers), are actually more wary of us than we are of them. Take that, Jaws. (Sunday, November 12, 7:30 p.m., Parker Playhouse; 89 minutes.)
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