Renowned marine cinematographers take the hard line.
It’s one thing to make a documentary to save sharks from extinction. It’s another to create one to save the human race.
In 2007, Stradbroke Island cinematographer, artist and conservationist David Hannan collaborated with Canadian marine biologist, filmmaker and activist Rob Stewart to produce Sharkwater, an internationally-acclaimed film highlighting the disgraceful practice of shark-finning.
Their latest work, Revolution, has recently been launched in Australian cinemas and it carries a single, sombre message: Save the planet now, or die.
Revolution depicts near-pristine landscapes, threats to our most precious wildlife, global protests and victorious moments in the fight against corporate corruption. It’s a call to action on a scale seldom seen in recent times.
Even so, David knows that powerful films like this are just the start.
“I praise people’s attempts to generate awareness and political action, but unfortunately that’s no longer enough. We now have to accept the reality that our oceans are dying, that our Great Barrier Reef is dead, and now look to the future,” he says pragmatically.
“The role of young people has never been so crucial. They are the only ones who will turn the environment around.”
When David’s not touring Australian schools presenting the documentary, the founder of the Ocean Ark Alliance (OAA), is either underwater filming, editing at his Stradbroke Island home or overseas working on international projects. When Zarraffa’s spoke with him, he’d just returned from Japan.
“I’m working on projects similar to Revolution in their educational objective, such as a film called Dragon Reef. We’re setting up macro- filming facilities now in Cairns.”
David is also involved in a 3D co- production with Steve Lichtag, a highly-awarded Czechoslovakian filmmaker, and China called Coral Moon, a dramatised feature film about the Coral Triangle. It shows how modern marine life is essentially born from an ecosystem found just north of Australia.
China’s interest in a reef-based biology film raises some questions, but David explains that in fact, China’s youth played a pivotal role in the Revolution concept.
“While heavily industrialised countries like China and Japan are considered the ‘bad guys’ of over- fishing, their young people are just as inspired and active about the oceans as Australians.”
“When Rob [Stewart] was lecturing about sharks in China, justifying the need for radical action, one student said something that changed his entire outlook.”
This student asked, ‘Why save the sharks when the entire ocean is dying?’
Up until then, Rob had been focusing “too specifically” on one part of a global predicament. Revolution shows how fighting against shark extinction led to addressing ocean acidification, government corruption and environmental disasters that have a direct impact on human life.
“People often think that the rainforests and mining pollution are what impact our terrestrial environment most, but the ocean is responsible for 80 per cent of life on Earth. Phytoplankton, for example, produces 40 per cent of our oxygen.”
“We’ve had five mass extinctions in the last 500 million years, all caused by ocean acidification, which always kills the coral reefs first. When they’re gone, the atmosphere will change dramatically.”
David recounts how the first ‘Hero of the Planet’, celebrated marine biologist Dr Sylvia Earle, has said that humans will soon be “gasping for air” due to the ocean’s impact on the terrestrial atmosphere.
David has closely followed the work of coral reef ecologist Dr Katharina Fabricius, from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences in Townsville.
“We now know certain fish on the Great Barrier Reef are behaving abnormally because of increased carbon dioxide levels affecting their blood. Predators are catching them much easier,” he explains.
“What you see in Revolution is happening, and it’s all confirmed by the experts,” David says.
The film’s underlying theme is time. When ocean conservation surged in the 1990s, activists considered global awareness the key to slowing degeneration. But David now believes that being aware is no longer enough. Actual change demands radical action.
“Encouragement, education and empowerment are great, but they’re not going to save the Great Barrier Reef. The reality is that we’ll lose it before 2050.”
“We are facing extinction, but we have the technology to save the species and start investing in artificial reefs.”
Education is a good place to start. Ocean Ark Alliance, which works with a number of international NGOs and activists, is a non-profit organisation that creates, collates and lends its ocean-based mediato educational parties license-free.
Anyone involved in marine education, science and conservation has unfettered access to OAA’s library of underwater digital stills, data and videos to assist their efforts. Its content has featured in Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove, Sharkwater and Revolution and has assisted emerging Gen-Y conservationists.
Australia’s ‘Shark Girl’, Madison Stewart, first used OAA’s media on her educational school visits. Similarly, 17-year-old Hannah Smith from the Gold Coast used its resources in her own shark finning and netting movie released in 2014.
“Young people are the custodians of the future. While adults are usually distressed by the earth’s plight and extinction, young people are inspired to take action,” David says.
“They will be in control of technology we don’t even have yet, using it to fix this mess. We owe it to tomorrow’s children to preserve what we have left and fund the right areas, such as cryotherapy (freezing species) and artificial reef technology.”
Revolution wasn’t made for easy- viewing. It questions our way of life and how we measure human progression, and frequently challenges trust in our governments. Heart-stopping cinematography asserts our responsibility for nature’s survival in a way no climate change sceptic can dismiss.
According to David, however, people’s decision to accept or deny the Earth’s demise won’t influence its recovery. Action, change and sustainability – saving the human race – rests with tomorrow’s generation.
“Young people have the power. By showing them what they can do, educating them in the right areas and steering them away from corruption, this planet still has a chance.”
It’s time for a revolution.