I recently had the opportunity to view Of Shark and Man, a tremendously engaging documentary by British film maker David Diley. The film chronicles the journey undertaken by the director, a 32 year old Englishman, who ditches his boring, safe career to follow a dream half way around the world, culminating in discovery and a new sense of purpose in a tropic paradise. That Diley’s dream was to dive alone with a school of Bull Sharks makes this prosaic tale something quite extraordinary.
As I watched Of Shark and Man, I vividly remembered my first time seeing the 2006 Canadian documentary Sharkwater, by Rob Stewart, and thinking that the film was going to change the way the world looks at sharks. Rob’s film did positively impact the shark fin trade and how the world perceives sharks in many ways, leading to increased global awareness and efforts to increase shark conservation. It was a pivotal moment in my understanding and appreciation for these magnificent animals, leading to my ever-increasing efforts to support shark conservation and research efforts.
So, on first watching Of Shark and Man, there were some obvious parallels to Sharkwater; a lone man who had a dream, a long journey of discovery, a new sense of wonder and perspective, and a call to action. But as I settled in and began to take notes, I discovered that this story was anything but the same…this was something quite different and magical.
In the opening sequences, we are given narrative by David, a bit of background that starkly painted a picture of a dull, grey existence…a 32 year old in a job he detests, who had dreams of a tropic escape on his mind. David’s dreams weren’t pedestrian or prosaic, though. He explained that as a child he was fascinated by sharks and now, as an adult, he wanted to dive with the largest congregation of Bull Sharks in the world. David was going to take us on a journey to Shark reef, in the Beqa Passage, just off the coast of Pacific Harbour on the south coast of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu.
The Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas), is a large requiem shark commonly found in warm coastal waters worldwide. With a reputation for aggressive behavior, widespread distribution, and the ability to live in freshwater, the Bull Shark is identified in the majority of negative shark-human encounters. This pugnacious reputation and their size (almost 4 meters and 650 kilograms) deter most divers from seeking them out.
Once in Fiji we learn, through David’s narrative his dream to go “walkabout” with the Bull Sharks, diving uncaged, alone, in the middle of upwards of a hundred sharks. Of Shark and Man details this month long journey from novice tourist to trusted colleague, and we watch David’s first encounters with these apex predators, awed by the sheer number and size of these sharks.
This story is not just a diary of a more exciting than usual vacation…there is a strong, continuous conservation message. Of Shark and Man brings the argument for or against shark diving and shark feeding stations to the forefront. Neumann unequivocally asserts the benefits to the sharks, the health of the reef, and the many positives that the tourist trade and growing shark and marine life population have brought to the local villagers. Throughout the movie, we meet and hear the stories of these native shark divers, who work with Neumann and Beqa Adventure Divers. They are unanimous in their support of the operations and the conservation of the sharks. There is a brief interview with scientist opposed to feeding stations, and Neumann is very clear about his disdain for divers who ride, grab and physically harass sharks.
The movie illustrates many of the threats to sharks, and there is a point in the movie where the casual assertions of a poacher harshly serves as a visceral reminder of just how vulnerable sharks are to shark finning, poaching, and over fishing.
Of Shark and Man touches on other conservation efforts that the villagers are engaged in, enlisting them to plant and restore mangroves in the estuary. Mangroves have the capability to form large areas of protection for juvenile marine life and act as coastal zone erosion buffers. Additionally, mangroves can absorb massive amounts of atmospheric carbon, helping to slow global warming.
Throughout the film, we meet many of the different species of sharks that inhabit this unique biosphere. These interactions are filmed in great detail and proximity. I was reminded of a reporter on the street, filming amidst a riot, with frenetic activity all around. The Bull Sharks are the stars of the show, and Of Shark and Man brings us literally nose to nose with these sharks, with some of the most stunning and bold cinematography ever seen. No amount of Hollywood CGI can duplicate the pinpoint clarity of point-blank shooting seen in this film.
The film takes us through the journey and out the other side…and the many milestones along the way are insightful and entertaining, stimulating and though-provoking. This isn’t a movie about diving as much as it is a film about a diver who has a love affair with sharks. David Diley and his story are well worth the watching and I would heartily recommend Of Shark and Man to anyone who has a passion for the Ocean and for sharks. At 98 minutes, this is a full-length feature film…and like any good roller coaster, the best comes near the end…the last 10 minutes are absolutely amazing, with the most stunning footage of sharks I have ever seen.
The official launch date of the film is the 27th August 2015 starting with the UK and then onto the international film circuit – in the meantime you can see the trailer below or goto the film website at ofsharkandman.com.