The statement starts off typically enough before taking a sharp left turn. ”I dreamt of being James Bond,” proclaims Rob Stewart, the Toronto-born director of the new documentary Revolution, giving voice to a fantasy of generations of young (and not-so-young) boys. Then he specifies. “For the environment. I’d parachute onto fishing boats and save animals before taking off to my submarine.”
Revolution may not feature shoot-’em-up sequences or femmes fatales, but there’s no question that Stewart is on a high-stakes mission, and one with lasting repercussions. Shot over four years in 15 countries, his doc features enough disquieting images-ruined rice fields in Madagascar, the Albertan oil sands-of humanity’s effect on the Earth to call battalions of eco-troops to action.
A marine biologist by training, Stewart made his living as an underwater photographer before setting out, at 22, to make a film about the world’s shark population, decimated by the demand for their fins. Starting in 2002, Stewart spent four years bringing the story he wanted to tell-that of the mass slaughter of a magnificent animal-to the screen; it was the first in a line of high-profile films about the depletion of ocean life that includes Louie Psihoyos’s The Cove and Rupert Murray’s The End of the Line.
The fact that Stewart had never studied filmmaking is now a mere footnote. Sharkwater betrays action-flick DNA, with riveting scenes of boat chases and confrontations with poachers. It also led to a ban on the sale of shark fins in several Canadian cities, as well as places as far-flung as Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. It was during a screening of Sharkwater in Hong Kong, when an audience member asked Stewart to clarify his objective, that his next cause materialized. If, as ecologists and economists have predicted, fish and seafood stocks will have collapsed by the year 2048 due to climate change and other factors, what’s the point in singling out sharks?
Cue Revolution. This second film has expanded the scope of Stewart’s activism: save the humans, save the world’s ecosystems. The threats are nothing if not varied-the doc is rife with disturbing stats about everything from the increasing possibility of ocean acidification (the cause of four of the planet’s last five mass-extinction events) to the effects of deforestation.
It’s enough to make one feel hopeless, but Stewart draws inspiration from the dedication of the subjects profiled in Revolution, whether it’s the idealistic young activists or the many scientists doing their best to raise the alarm. “These are problems for all of us,” he says, “and instead of getting overwhelmed by them or feeling sad about them, we’ve got to get down to work.”
For his part, Stewart is zeroing in on one audience in particular: kids. Having met many students moved to act by Sharkwater (including the class of sixth graders responsible for the ban in Saipan), he hopes Revolution can do the same. “It’s their future that’s at stake now,” says Stewart, “not the middle-aged dudes’ future. They can see the world in 2048 with no fish, no reefs, no rainforests and nine billion people. They’re saying, ‘We’ve got to do something about it.'”
Motivating impressionable moviegoers is a noble, very 21st-century goal-one at which Stewart has absolutely no intention of failing. “We have a massive crisis, and it’s going to need all of humanity to be the best versions of themselves to figure this out,” he says. “The world needs heroes now more than ever before.” Spoken like a true superspy.
Revolution opens in theatres April 12.
(Photo: Raina & Wilson)