Remembering Rob Stewart

Robert Stewart
Photo by Richard Sibbald

By Pat Mullen

POV is saddened to hear of the death of filmmaker and fearless activist Rob Stewart. The body of the 37-year-old was found off the coast of Florida Friday night reported the Toronto Star. Stewart had been missing since Tuesday when he failed to surface while scuba diving with a friend in Alligator Reef. He died at sea doing what he loved.

Stewart inspired filmgoers and members of the doc community with his feature debut Sharkwater (2006). The doc drew upon Stewart’s experience in marine biology and journalism to tell an urgent story about the vital role sharks play in the world’s ecosystem and the devastating consequences of human activity threatening their survival. The film won numerous awards including the documentary prize from the Directors Guild of Canada and a Genie nomination for Best Documentary. His second feature, Revolution, was released in 2013. Stewart was in Florida researching his next film Sharkwater: Extinction.

James Buffin profiled Stewart in the Spring 2013 issue of POV and wrote with tangible awe about the filmmaker’s courage. “Chances were pretty good that something interesting was going to happen,” wrote Buffin, “but what most impressed me is that Stewart simply followed his passion for sharks, trusting that at the end of the day it would all make sense and he’d be able to recoup. A film made simply on principle. Kudos.”

Paul Watson echoed this sentiment in a recent contribution to the Globe and Mail, saying, “In addition to being a marine biologist, Rob Stewart had the four most important virtues needed to be a world class expert on sharks and the reality of our relationship with the living diversity within oceanic eco-system. These virtues are passion, empathy, courage and imagination. He had the courage to follow his passion with a remarkable empathy for his subject and the imagination to transform the focus of his work through the media of film in a way that changed the perception of sharks to tens of millions of people around the planet.”

Stewart received the 2015 Eco-Hero Award from Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival in recognition of his efforts to educate the public. PiF encouraged fans to continue Stewart’s mission, writing “Keep the #FinFree movement alive. In honour of Rob’s legacy, please sign this petition to encourage Mayor John Tory to ban the sale of shark fins in the city of Toronto.”

Stewart’s impact was evident in the outpouring of support following his disappearance. “Rob never flinched,” said his friend Tyler MacLead in a video posted to Facebook. “Take a piece of the way Rob lived.” MacLeod lead a crowdfunding campaign to search for Stewart that quickly was over $196,000 to find his friend. Additional funds will be donated to Stewart’s charity Fin Free.